AABANY Pro Bono and Community Service Committee Vice Chair Olympia Moy and her partner Elizabeth Ingriselli’s wedding story was featured in an April 9, 2021 article in The New York Times titled “They Didn’t Need a Dating App After All.”
Their story began in 2016 when Olympia came across Elizabeth’s profile on the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel and became intrigued by their similar interests. Both of them had graduated from Princeton and both were interested in pursuing a career in law. Weeks later, after Olympia received no response to the “like” she left on Elizabeth’s profile, they both happened to attend the same Pride Month mixer in Manhattan. Instead of avoiding Elizabeth, Olympia struck a conversation with her and learned that Elizabeth had not rejected her on the dating app, but rather had not seen the “like.” They quickly became friends and after a few months of meeting, they went on their first date. On March 7, 2021, Olympia and Elizabeth held a small wedding ceremony at an outdoor dining structure in Chinatown within the Covid-19 guidelines. They plan to hold a second, larger celebration at the Princeton University Chapel next year.
Please join AABANY in congratulating Olympia and Elizabeth on their marriage! To read their full wedding story, please click here.
AABANY is proud to spotlight Hon. Peter Tom, the 2021 recipient of the New York State Bar Association’s George Bundy Smith Pioneer Award. Justice Tom says he is honored to receive an award named after Judge Smith, whom he always considered a good judge and good friend. Judge Smith served on the New York Court of Appeals and was a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement. Since 2007, the honor in his namesake has been accorded to lawyers who demonstrate a similar level of commitment to legal excellence, community service and mentoring. Justice Tom has done just that in his trailblazing, thirty-plus year judicial career.
After graduating from Brooklyn Law School in 1975, Justice Tom joined the Civil Court of the City of New York as a Law Clerk, working on a wide variety of criminal and civil assignments. As he grew comfortable in the court system, he began rethinking his original plans to start his own law firm, and in 1985, Justice Tom became the first Asian American appointed to the Housing Court of the City of New York. Although he could not have known it then, this initial foray into the court system would launch a long and distinguished career of judicial “firsts” for an Asian American. In 1987, Justice Tom was one of the first Asian Americans elected to the Civil Court of the City of New York; in 1990, he became the first Asian American elected to the New York State Supreme Court in New York County; and from 1994 until 2008, he served as the first and only Asian American in the Appellate Division of the State of New York.
While Justice Tom’s judicial career is defined by a multitude of groundbreaking rulings and widely publicized opinions, his success spanned beyond the walls of the courtroom. At age 18, Justice Tom became the first Asian American to win the New York Golden Gloves — amateur boxing’s most prestigious tournament. What began as a tactic for self-defense had landed him in Madison Square Garden’s ring on the week of four exams. As his attention flitted from schoolwork to boxing, the young Tom was learning a lesson that stuck with him even after he swapped his gloves for a gavel. In the words of the Justice, “You cannot excel at more than one thing in life because there’s just not enough time to prepare yourself. So work harder than the competition in whatever you do, and you’ll come out ahead.”
And work hard he did. While his days in retirement have been dedicated to exercise, art, and travel, Justice Tom spent much of his professional career burning the midnight oil. In his very first judicial position, the then-Housing Court Judge was swamped with twenty to thirty new cases on a daily basis. Justice Tom recalls laboring to reach as many settlements as possible on the weekdays before spending entire weekends writing legal opinions. During this time, a frequent visitor of his was the courthouse custodian, who would come in at midnight to send the indefatigable judge home before locking up.
The concept of halfhearted work was just as foreign to Justice Tom then as it was years earlier in the boxing ring. While serving on the New York Supreme Court, he sought to instill the same tenacity in his interns, whom he taught that nothing short of absolute focus was essential for success. It is this sort of tireless work ethic that Justice Tom hopes to impress upon all aspiring jurists: “Nothing in life comes easy, so build a strong reputation for yourself by volunteering your time to your community and by working hard.”
Over the course of his judicial career, Justice Tom authored more than 500 legal opinions, many of which received front page coverage in the New York Law Journal. As a testament to the fairness of his decisions, the Court of Appeals regularly affirmed his opinions and used his dissents as the basis for reversal. In one of his most groundbreaking rulings, Justice Tom employed a 100-year-old “Bawdy House Statute” for the first time to evict drug dealers from residential property. His decision could not have come at a more opportune moment for New York, which was then being ravaged by the 1980s crack epidemic. Employing Justice Tom’s novel application of the statute, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office subsequently established a Narcotics Eviction Part throughout the city’s Civil Courts. The Justice’s ingenuity thereby helped to convert an obscure law from 1840 into a potent weapon for clearing out crack dens across the city.
While serving in the Appellate Division, Justice Tom enjoyed hearing cases on the whole spectrum of legal issues, from commercial and criminal to housing and family. One particular case, however, remains among his proudest accomplishments. People v. Luis Kevin Rojas centered on the wrongful murder conviction of Luis Rojas, whose lawyer had failed to investigate his alibi and even ineptly indicated during trial that Rojas was present at the crime scene. After his conviction, Rojas hired new lawyers and private investigators, who unearthed evidence that seemed to vindicate Rojas entirely. Writing for the appellate panel, Justice Tom castigated the defendant’s trial counsel for his “ignorance of the facts” and reversed Rojas’ conviction and his sentence of 15 years to life. Justice Tom’s decision, which saved an innocent man from a potential lifetime in prison, was featured in both the New York Times and the New York Law Journal.
Though his extensive resume of legal triumphs might suggest otherwise, Justice Tom’s judicial path was not always seamless. Among the obstacles he faced was the former lack of a bar association representing Asian Americans. While AABANY now boasts nearly 1500 members as the nation’s largest affinity bar association, it was still a nascent organization — only one year old — when Justice Tom applied for his third judicial position in 1990. At the time, there were well-established ethnic bar associations for virtually all the other minority candidates. The Jewish Lawyers Guild had been established in 1962, the LGBT Bar Association of New York in 1978, and so on. Justice Tom’s ability to climb the court system without similar representation was the exception rather than the norm, as revealed by the paucity of Asian American judges seated back then.
While diversity on the bench has since increased, today’s courts are still far from reflecting the diversity of the communities they serve. Justice Tom identifies the lack of AAPIs in the judiciary as the primary reason that Asian Americans do not feel comfortable participating in the system. Particularly amid the ongoing surge in anti-Asian violence, Justice Tom says that many Asians view the predominantly white court system as a foreign institution — one where their chances of achieving proper recourse are slim. In this context, Justice Tom believes that his various judicial appointments have helped Asian Americans feel more like a part of the institution themselves. AAPIs constitute a large portion of the New York population, and representation in the judiciary must reflect this population. According to Justice Tom, greater representation of Asians among court personnel at all levels, from officers and reporters to clerks and judges, will increase the fairness of the institution in both appearance and reality.
As a harbinger of the increased diversity he hopes for, Justice Tom left a judicial legacy that doubtlessly merits NYSBA’s George Bundy Smith Pioneer award. Looking forward, he believes that AABANY’s rapid growth will enable the association to play a critical role in seating even more Asian Americans on the bench. Because judges can only say so much while remaining bipartisan, Justice Tom views AABANY as an advocate that can speak on behalf of budding Asian American jurists. One can only hope that among this group of aspirants, some will follow in Justice Tom’s footsteps and emerge as the next generation of legal pioneers.
AABANY encourages everyone to attend the presentation of Justice Tom’s award at NYSBA’s Commercial and Federal Litigation Spring Meeting on Thursday, May 6, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The registration page for the award ceremony can be found here.
Kimberly Ong, Senior Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council and AABANY member, was recently quoted in The New York Times after regulators in New York denied an application for a $1 billion natural gas line due to environmental impact concerns.
Kimberly Ong declared, “The state has made it clear that dangerous gas pipelines have no place in New York.”
On August 11, the day after AABANY’s reenactment of the Heart Mountain draft resisters trial at Fordham Law School as part of the ABA’s CLE in the City Series, the New York Times published an Op-Ed by Tom Brokaw about the friendship struck between Alan Simpson and Norman Mineta. Simpson was a U.S. Senator representing Wyoming and Mineta served as U.S. Secretary of Transportation under President George W. Bush. They first met when Mineta and his family were interned at Heart Mountain.
Marking the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 which led to the mass internment of Japanese American citizens without due process, Brokaw reminds us:
The senator likes to recall the words of Justice Frank Murphy, one of only three dissenting votes when President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 1944. Justice Murphy wrote that “the broad provisions of the Bill of Rights” are not “suspended by the mere existence of a state of war. Distinctions based on color and ancestry are utterly inconsistent with our traditions and ideals.”
Let us continue to learn the lessons of the Japanese American internment experience during this 75th year anniversary of Executive Order 9066 so that we as a society can prevent future violations of constitutional and civil rights.
On October 18, AABANY Issues Committee Chair Chris M. Kwok participated in a New York Times live chat with:
Michael Luo, Deputy Metro Editor of the New York Times
Anthony Christian Ocampo, Sociologist at Cal Poly Pomona
Grace Meng, Congresswoman, D-NY 6th District
Simran Jeet Singh, Senior Religion Fellow, The Sikh Coalition
Erika Lee, Author of “The Making of Asian America: A History”
Anand Giridharadas, Author of “The True American”
Arun Venugopal, Race Reporter, WNYC
The live-chat addressed the important topic of confronting racism against Asian Americans. Earlier in October, Deputy Metro Editor Michael Luo wrote an open letter to the woman to yelled at him to “go back to China.” Since then, thousands of Asian Americans have come forward with their own experiences of racial prejudice. During this conversation, the live-chatters asked the questions of why the letter resonated with so many and what can be done to address the ‘otherization’ of Asian Americans. They addressed many topics including the ‘right’ way to respond to racist attacks and microaggressions, the inadequate education on Asian contributions to American history, and how to contextualize this Asian American moment which has galvanized so many.
We encourage you all to read the conversation at the above link. Among the many contributions of our Issues Chair Chris Kwok were:
“Asian Americans are hungry for their stories to be heard, and their experiences with discrimination given a platform. They feel its not often given serious attention.”
“We need to remember AAPI is bound as political category, and not an ethnic and racial one.”
Seoul Searching opens today, and AABANY is more excited to see it than ever. If you don’t already have plans to join us for our movie outing tonight, be sure to catch the NYT Critics’ Pick some time during its run at AMC Empire 25.
Check out Jeannette Catsoulis’ review in The New York Times by clicking the link above. She states:
An appealingly gung-ho cast and let’s-get-along message make “Seoul Searching” a buoyant, if undisciplined comedy about foreign-raised South Korean teenagers getting in touch with their ethnic roots.
Check out the moving story of Afghan lovers Zakia and Mohammad Ali, whose parents oppose their union because they are from different sects. Seeking asylum in New York, they are hoping to establish new lives for themselves beyond the potato fields of their home in Bamian Province.
Our Immigration & Nationality Law Committee Co-Chair Poonam Gupta has a hand in their journey:
This time around, the process for an American visa has been going more smoothly. Their case, granted under Humanitarian Parole, a limited visa program for those with a “compelling emergency,” was facilitated by a lawyer, Poonam Gupta of White & Case LLP, who was hired by the aid group Women for Afghan Women.
Click on the link in the title to read more of their love story.
Austin So has written another Letter to the Editor about the lack of diversity and inclusion for Asian Americans. This time, he speaks about whitewashing and Hollywood in response to Keith Chow’s “Why Hollywood Won’t Cast Asian Actors.” As stated by Austin,
Once again, Asian-Americans are excluded from the diversity dialogue. And that has real impact, as we see with the casting of white actors to play the main characters, who are Asian, in “Doctor Strange” and “Ghost in the Shell.”
Check out what he has to say by clicking the link above.