California Bar Journal
CBJ - October 2008 #02.
Aranda winner honored for bettering family court
California Bar Journal October 2008 Aranda winner honored for bettering family courtBy Nancy McCarthyStaff WriterIn Orange County family court, where some 16,000 people seeking a divorce come into the building without a lawyer every year, they can thank one man for helping to move their cases along expeditiously. So can the many non-English-speaking parties who benefit from an interpreter intern program. Even local clergy have been trained to respond appropriately when a victim of domestic violence turns to the church for help.
Francisco F. Firmat, supervising judge of the county's Family Law Panel, has initiated an impressive array of programs designed to ease the difficulties encountered by individuals who find themselves in family court, particularly those who are there without the help of a lawyer. "One does not need to be in Judge Firmat's courtroom long to realize that he possesses a true desire and intent to make this process as amicable and efficient as possible," said John S. Cowhig, president of the Orange County Bar Association's family law section. "He is the epitome of patience, understanding, neutrality and justice."
In recognition of his long-term commitment to improving access to justice, Firmat is the recipient of the 2008 Benjamin Aranda III Access to Justice Award, cosponsored by the State Bar, Judicial Council and the California Judges Association. The award was created by the California Commission on Access to Justice.
A judge since 1985, Firmat took over the family law panel of 17 judicial officers in 2004. Almost immediately, he said, an example of the kinds of problems faced by family law litigants arrived in his courtroom. A couple who did not speak English brought their 14-year-old daughter with them to act as an interpreter. Only one person showed up for a subsequent court date. "How can anyone have quality of justice if they can't make themselves understood?" Firmat asked.
He soon approached California State University, Los Angeles, and arranged for students in its Spanish interpreter certification program to volunteer to help self-represented litigants. The program now is operated through Cal State Fullerton, which provides 10 interns each week to help with dissolution cases without...