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December 09, 2011

Hon. Maria P. Rivera ’74 has earned the 2011 Aranda Access to Justice Award. The Aranda Award honors a trial judge or an appellate justice whose activities demonstrate a long-term commitment to improving access to justice.

Rivera, justice of the California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District in San Francisco, has encouraged attorneys to serve as pro bono counsel for indigents, created programs to help individuals who cannot obtain counsel, and cooperated with local bar associations to develop legal aid programs.

“All of those who have had the opportunity to work with Justice Rivera know the passion and intensity she brings to this work, and the effectiveness with which she brings ideas to fulfillment,” said last year’s award recipient Hon. Laurie D. Zelon in a joint statement with San Francisco attorney Richard W. Odgers.

In 1978, Rivera left private practice and served for three years as a deputy district attorney in San Francisco and later as an assistant U.S. attorney. She returned to private practice in 1981 during which time she assisted indigent clients through her work in the bar, the community, and her practice. She was elected to the Superior Court of Contra Costa County in 1996 and was appointed to her current position by Gov. Gray Davis in 2002.

She has served on the State Bar’s Legal Services Trust Fund Commission and chaired its partnership grants committee; on the Judicial Council’s Advisory Committee on Access and the Fairness and the Women of Color, Racial and Ethnic Fairness, and Access for Persons with Disabilities subcommittees; on the Advisory Board of the Legal Services Coordinating Committee; and on numerous other legal boards and committees. Rivera is a mentor with the Judicial Mentorship programs for the Bar Association of San Francisco, the Alameda County Bar Association, and the Diversity Section of the Contra Costa Bar Association.

Rivera was named the USF School of Law Alumna of the Year in 2010, and also has received the Pro Bono Judge of the Year Award by the Contra Costa County Bar Association, Trial Judge of the Year Award by the Alameda-Contra Costa Trial Lawyers Association, and the Distinguished Justice Award by the San Francisco La Raza Lawyers Association.

“Maria’s service and awards are too numerous to recite here, but the themes common to them all are readily apparent: professional excellence, service to community, the struggle for racial and gender equality, and a concern for the plight of children,” Dean Jeffrey Brand said. “(She is) a great justice who works tirelessly for the common good which she would far prefer to celebrate than any individual honor she might achieve.”