GLENDALE—Several hundred dignitaries, public officials, and guests joined the Armenian Bar Association on October 10, 2013, to celebrate, honor and recognize the career and service of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza. His first column of respect was comprised of nearly 40 judicial officers from the federal and state courts who had come to pay homage and respect to one of their own. This truly special event played out in full regalia during the Armenian Bar Association’s Annual Judges’ Night Dinner at the Phoenicia Restaurant.
The Master of Ceremonies for the evening was Armenian Bar Association Chairman Garo B. Ghazarian. After welcoming remarks by ArmenBar Board member Gerard Kassabian, Ghazarian was introduced by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge and former Armenian Bar Chairman, the Honorable Zaven Sinanian. Judge Sinanian recognized Ghazarian by stating that “Garo’s whole concept in life is to serve the community, never giving up, and relentlessly fighting for what is right in life.” He also applauded him for leading the organization toward unprecedented heights of public service and achievement, while simultaneously serving on multiple fronts. Sinanian also took a few moments to express his heartfelt thanks to the evening’s guest of honor, Peter Espinoza, who was a mentor to Judge Sinanian when he first took the bench more than 10 years ago.
In his opening remarks, Ghazarian stated, “Tonight, we thank Judge Espinoza and his colleagues on the bench for their public service, for their activism, for their commitment to the ideal that in order for our civil society to progress, we must have a strong and independent judiciary.”
In an unprecedented show of Armenian community unity and cohesion, usually reserved for April 24th commemorations, Chairman Ghazarian thanked and acknowledged the presence of Armenian Revolutionary Federation Central Committee Chairman, Dr. Viken Hovsepian, Armenian Democratic League Central Committee Board member, Dr. Raffi Balian, Armenian General Benevolent Union Vice-President, World-Wide Board of Governors, Mr. Sinan Sinanian, and Armenian National Committee Western United States Chairwoman, Nora Hovsepian.
Ghazarian then called upon Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, David Wesley, to address the rapt audience. Wesley described the enormous challenges that face the California judiciary today, noting the massive budget cuts that have been imposed upon the court system. But, despite those setbacks in funding, he explained that the California courts are still seen as a model for judicial excellence across the country. He thanked the judges in attendance for maintaining the highest levels of judicial performance in these difficult times.
Another very special guest for the evening was Judge Fred Rotenberg of the Los Angeles Superior Court, currently sitting in Glendale, California. Judge Rotenberg was one of the guests of honor at the Inaugural Judges’ Night of the Armenian Bar Association last year. Judge Rotenberg thanked the Armenian Bar Association for bestowing on him with the public recognition for his work as a judge. He stated that he shares a common history with the Armenian community in that he, like many in the audience, saw their parents and grandparents endure extreme hardship. Judge Rotenberg’s mother, Helen, is a Holocaust survivor and was present at last year’s Judges’ Night event. Judge Rotenberg stated that he understands how these experiences impact a person’s life and he is mindful of this in his work as a judge.
In an unexpected moment during the evening, former Mayor of Pasadena presented Ghazarian with a medal of honor for his efforts in persuading the City of Pasadena to establish an Armenian Genocide Memorial in Pasadena’s Memorial Park. Mr. Paparian explained that work on the monument will begin on April 24, 2014, and the memorial will be consecrated on the occasion of the 100th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 1915.
There were many civic leaders in attendance at the gala event, among them the mayor of Glendale, Dave Weaver, the Treasurer of the City of Glendale, Rafi Manoukian, member of the Glendale City Council and Board of Directors of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority, Ara Najarian, Montebello City Councilman, Jack Hadjinian, the leadership of the Glendale Police Department led by Deputy Chief Carl Povalitis, and Chief Jim McDonnell, who is the Chief of the Long Beach Police Department and President of the Los Angeles County Association of Chiefs of Police. Chief McDonnell spoke of his background as a child of Irish immigrants and how the diversity of America, being a nation of immigrants, has strengthened the country.
The highlight of the evening was the honoring of Judge Peter Espinoza. Ghazarian explained to the audience that the Judges’ Night dinner was originally scheduled to take place a week earlier, but that it was delayed because Judge Espinoza would still be in Armenia at that time. Ghazarian fondly recalled that Judge Espinoza, through his activism in the Chicano movement, his respect for cultural diversity born of his own roots as a Mexican-American, his understanding of the cause for civil and human rights brought to the forefront by people such as Cesar Chavez, has enriched California’s judiciary to make it truly reflective of its citizenry. Ghazarian added that Judge Espinoza has been so highly respected as a member of the judiciary that California’s governors often consult Judge Espinoza for his recommendations for new judicial appointments to the bench. Ghazarian then welcomed Judge Espinoza to the podium to a standing ovation.
Judge Espinoza began his remarks by acknowledging several members of his family who accompanied him to the event, including his wife, two of his children and their spouses and a grandchild. He reminisced about his youth growing up in East Los Angeles and reminded the audience that before Hollywood, Glendale and the Valley, the origin of the first Armenian community in Southern California was in East Los Angeles and Montebello. He recalled meeting many Armenians in his childhood and mentioned that he never thought he would ever visit Armenia at that time. But that trip he never thought he would take, he explained to the guests, recently became a reality because of the outstanding work of his daughter, Elizabeth Espinoza. Judge Espinoza’s daughter is a volunteer for the United States Peace Corp and has been teaching English in the small village of Shatin in southern Armenia for the past 17 months. Judge Espinoza told the audience that the recent visit to Armenia by him and his wife Dyanna, far exceeded his expectations. He urged everyone in the audience to “come to Armenia” to experience its rich history, its beauty and to aid the Armenian people to realize their full potential. He also explained that while the capital of Yerevan is a major cosmopolitan city that reminded him of Mexico City, he alerted the audience that life in the Armenian villages is far different and that the people there need assistance with infrastructure and other basic necessities.
Espinoza fondly recalled that a highlight of his trip was when he met and visited with Raffi K. Hovannisian, the founder of the Armenian Bar Association and this year’s leading Armenian presidential candidate. Judge Espinoza mentioned that he had recently read the best-selling book, Family of Shadows, written by Raffi’s son, Garin, and he very much wanted to visit Raffi and see for himself who this both modest and larger-than-life person was. Chairman Ghazarian was able to arrange a meeting and Judge Espinoza was inspired by Raffi’s and his wife’s Armine’s commitment to the people of Armenia. He likened Raffi’s work to that of a modern-day Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez.
Judge Espinoza also recalled that during his trip to Armenia, he learned that toasting is an important part of a social gathering. In keeping with that grand tradition, Judge Espinoza gave two beautiful toasts in honor of his daughter Elizabeth and to Raffi K. Hovannisian. He asked the guests to raise their glasses in a “genatz” or “cheers.”
Upon the conclusion of Judge Espinoza’s remarks, the leadership of the Armenian Bar Association–Ghazarian, Armen K. Hovannisian and Edvin Minassian–presented Judge Espinoza with an original work of art from artist, Seroon Yeretsian, eloquently inscribed with poetic words of gratitude for Judge Espinoza’s life work in public service and the promotion of civil and human rights.
In an interview following the event, Chairman Ghazarian stated: “I am very proud of the Armenian Bar Association. Once again we were able to recognize and honor the best and brightest of our judicial and legal community, like Judge Peter Espinoza. The outstanding response from a diverse cross-section of our community to our Judges’ Night represents another major milestone for our organization and the Armenian community. We look forward to carrying on this tradition for years to come.”