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A Life of Social Justice Promotion Through Public Service

How can a community provide public service in an economic, efficient and effective manner AND promote equity or social justice? There are no easy institutional or organizational answers to this question. When it happens, it usually happens because of the actions of a public servant who is dedicated to all four pillars of public administration. Judge Garry T. Ichikawa is one such public servant. His story is probably not typical, but it is instructive in helping us see how individuals can make a positive difference in support of social justice in public service.

Judge Ichikawa, the 2013 recipient of the Gloria Hobson Nordin Social Equity award, attributes his passion for social justice to the lessons he learned in his childhood from his father. Being of Japanese ancestry, his parents were sent to an “internment camp” during World War II and thus personally experienced one of our country’s most dramatic examples of social injustice. Nonetheless, his father volunteered to act as an interpreter for the U.S. Army during the war and later organized the community to ensure that deceased individuals of Japanese ancestry could be buried in the local cemetery

After college, Judge Ichikawa served in the military. Vietnam exposed soldiers to marijuana, methamphetamines, barbiturates, and heroin. The Army was not equipped to address these problems. Ichikawa was part of a study which proved that soldiers’ drug abuse problems started in the Army, not in their civilian life. This proof led to the concept that drug abusing soldiers should not be subjected to the military justice system but rather should be offered help to maintain sobriety long enough to finish their length of service and be honorably discharged.

Later, Judge Ichikawa served in the Juvenile Dependency Court for seven years. He always engaged with others in a respectful manner that preserved and/or enhanced their dignity. As a result, through his daily interactions he had tremendous and lasting impact on vulnerable children and youths who have been abused and neglected and on their often marginalized parents. Perhaps even more importantly, he was a constant role model and standard bearer for his professional colleagues about how to take an adverse action such as removing children from their parents or terminating parental rights while upholding the dignity of the person.

Many judges hear their cases, make their decisions, and go home. Judge Ichikawa wants to improve social justice for everyone. He possesses a steadfast dedication to ensuring equal access to the justice system for indigent and minority populations. The following are examples of his efforts to promote fairness and equity:

• Family law self-represented litigants – In family law court, litigants do not have attorneys; they represent themselves in a highly complex judicial system.

o He worked closely with the family law program manager to develop and implement several procedures and programs which were cost-effective and provided self-represented litigants the means to more easily navigate the judicial system and resolve issues associated with the family law case.

o Many of the new procedures had the additional benefit of helping self-represented litigants, many of whom were low-income, complete their documents correctly the first time, thus saving them the expense of multiple visits to the courthouse.

o Judge Ichikawa implemented a mandatory family law status conference procedure which included a checklist and monitoring to guide self-represented litigants to resolution of their cases.

o He collaborated with staff to develop a video that instructed litigants how to pursue guardianship and complete the legal tasks which are usually completed by attorneys or other professionals. The DVD guides them through the guardianship process, saves them money, and empowers them to access the justice system.

• Educational rights for foster youths – Judge Ichikawa vigorously advocated for a Solano County Interagency Agreement for the delivery of educational services to foster youths. Over 52 agencies collaborated to support the agreement.

o Judge Ichikawa participated in all community workshops and encouraged agencies to focus on the educations needs of foster youths.

o He made presentations to the Board of Supervisors, Board of Education and numerous school district meetings.

It is widely acknowledged that it was Judge Ichikawa’s leadership of and steadfastness to this process that resulted in all 52 agencies involved supporting and signing the agreement.

• Foster parenting justice system education –The justice system does not view the foster parent as part of the dependency action and thus they cannot participate in hearings related to the child. In Solano County,

o Judge Ichikawa has developed policies that grant foster parents the right to be in dependency hearings about their foster child and in some cases to address the court during the hearing.

o He also developed a curriculum for foster parents which additionally empowers them and which ultimately assists the foster children in their care.

• Drug courts – Judge Ichikawa is a strong advocate of the Drug Court model which provides intensive judicial supervision along with extensive wraparound services to engage substance abusing defendants who face many challenges. Such a model benefits disadvantaged litigants but has broad positive benefits for the entire community. Despite resistance, lack of support, and lack of funding, Judge Ichikawa advocated for, found funding for, and established the following drug courts for disenfranchised populations:

o Juvenile drug court – This court works with at-risk youths and their families. His leadership brought the Juvenile Drug Court to the point that it was chosen for presentation at the National Drug Court Institute’s 14th Annual National Conference.

o Dependency drug court – This court serves parents whose children are in foster care. The parents face many obstacles including poverty, lack of education, substance abuse, poor parenting skills, and inability to function appropriately in the community. He grew this court program from three clients to over 20 parent graduates who were able to successfully reunify with their children.

o Adult drug court – These adults are mostly low-income minorities with no other options to address their substance abuse issues and therefore likely to enter state prison. This court provides services so that they may reintegrate into the community

• Mental health court – Judge Ichikawa established the first such court by advocating for it with other judges and the District Attorney.

o With the Judge’s leadership, the court has since received a State funding grant and has provided mentally ill indigent litigants a vehicle for having their matters heard.

 

Through his actions, Judge Ichikawa not only made sure that court proceedings would be economical, efficient and effective. He also made sure they were equitable for the participants in the proceedings. More important, he established systems and procedures that made sure future proceedings for future participants would be equitable as well.

Judge Ichikawa served on the Fairfield City Council for 7 years. When he retired from the Council, staff presented him with a plaque inscribed as follows: “Let us choose for ourselves what is right; let us know among ourselves what is good.” Judge Ichikawa’s entire life has been one of striving to live up to this high standard.

For the actions cited above, Judge Garry Ichikawa has been selected as the 2013 recipient of the Gloria Hobson Nordin Social Equity Award. He will receive his well-deserved honor at the ASPA conference in New Orleans on Sunday, March 17, 2013 at the Social Equity luncheon, where he will make remarks on social equity and public service.

For more information in the 2103 ASPA Conference, including the Social Equity luncheon, click here.

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Author: James Nordin.  

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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