Oxnard Native Appointed to Superior Court

Times Staff Writers

A longtime court commissioner and former poverty law attorney was appointed Wednesday to the Ventura County Superior Court by Gov. Gray Davis.

Manuel J. Covarrubias, a 50-year-old Oxnard resident born and raised in the city, fills a position created by the Legislature in January 2001.

Covarrubias becomes the county's 27th Superior Court judge and its second Latino jurist, joining Judge Arturo F. Gutierrez, who has served on the bench for more than 20 years.

Sitting in court chambers Wednesday afternoon, Covarrubias said he had long aspired to be a Superior Court judge.

"It's very satisfying to reach a personal goal," Covarrubias said. "It's just elating."

One of nine children and the first in his family to graduate from college, Covarrubias described his new job as an "awesome task" with a great amount of responsibility.

He began his career as a legal aid attorney and later opened his own practice as a civil and family law attorney.

For the last eight years, he has served as a full-time court commissioner presiding over family law, small claims and traffic matters.

Unlike Superior Court judges who preside over trials and other matters, court commissioners are selected by the county's sitting judges to hear limited types of cases, such as traffic and misdemeanor matters.

Superior Court Judge David W. Long, also a former court commissioner, said Covarrubias had been a reliable commissioner and will make an excellent judge.

"I'm absolutely thrilled," Long said.

Attorneys across the county praised Davis, not only for bringing greater diversity to the bench, but also for picking someone with a rich background in civil litigation.

"We have a bench that has been historically laden with former district attorneys who are fine judges, but when it comes to civil cases there has been a learning curve," said Oxnard attorney Oscar C. Gonzalez, a former officer for the California La Raza Lawyers Assn.

Gonzalez, who met Covarrubias more than 15 years ago through their memberships with the county's Mexican-American Bar Assn., said the new judge is a "fine attorney, a fine commissioner and will be a fine judge."

Steve Henderson, executive director of the Ventura County Bar Assn., called the appointment well-deserved. He said Covarrubias is highly regarded in the Ventura County legal community.

Ron Harrington, past president of the Ventura County Bar Assn., said Covarrubias' judicial temperament makes him an excellent choice for the position.

"He runs a very comfortable courtroom. He is decent and respectful," said Harrington, a Ventura attorney. "He keeps people as relaxed as he can, and they know that fairness and justice are taking place."

Carmen Ramirez, a former poverty lawyer who runs the Superior Court's self-help legal center in Oxnard, has known Covarrubias more than 20 years, since they met at a legal aid office.

"He's a wonderful person and will be a great judge for the entire community," Ramirez said. "It is really important that the institutions reflect the community, and it's been decades since a Latino was appointed. This is good."

Ventura County's population is about one-third Latino, and that share is increasing.

Covarrubias began his legal career in 1978 as a legal aid attorney with Channel Counties Legal Services. In 1981 he opened his own law office in Oxnard, practicing family law, misdemeanor criminal defense and civil litigation.

Covarrubias graduated from Oxnard High School, earned a bachelor's degree from Cal State Northridge and a law degree from Loyola Law School.

He and his wife, Audrey, have three children, ages, 22, 21 and 17. In his free time, Covarrubias enjoys carpentry and gardening.

On Wednesday, he said couldn't wait to tell his parents -- a retired union carpenter and homemaker -- of his appointment.

"I've been trying to reach them," Covarrubias said. "I'm sure they'll be elated."

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