NAPABA Announces 2017 Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award Recipients

For Immediate Release
Aug. 30, 2017

                                                   For More Information, Contact:
                                                   Brett Schuster, Communications Manager
                                                   [email protected], 202-775-9555

WASHINGTON — The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) has selected five exceptional attorneys to receive NAPABA’s highest honor — the Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award. This award recognizes the outstanding achievements, commitment, and leadership of lawyers who have paved the way for the advancement of other Asian Pacific American attorneys. These Trailblazers have demonstrated vision, courage, and tenacity, and made substantial and lasting contributions to the Asian Pacific American legal profession, as well as to the broader Asian Pacific American community.

The 2017 Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Awards will be presented on Nov. 3, 2017, at a special ceremony during the 2017 NAPABA Convention in Washington, D.C., to the following recipients:

  • Honorable Halim Dhanidina
  • Parkin Lee
  • Willard K. Tom
  • Honorable G. Michael Witte
  • Honorable Youlee Yim You

The 2017 Trailblazers class is represented by a diverse and impressive group. Judge Halim Dhanidina began his career as a deputy district attorney for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for over 14 years, working his way up to the Hardcore Gang and the Major Crimes Divisions. In 2012, Los Angeles Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. appointed Judge Dhanidina to the Superior Court of Los Angeles County — making him the first Muslim American judge in California. Judge Dhanidina was a founding law student member of NAPABA’s Los Angeles affiliate (APABA-LA), and, through his efforts, APABA-LA partnered with SHADES (Stopping Hate & Delinquency by Empowering Students). With SHADES, APABA-LA’s members served as mentors and case proctors for teenage jurors in an innovative “Teen Court” program which provided an alternative to traditional school discipline by educating offenders and helping them to develop stronger empathy toward victims.

While in law school at New York University, Parkin Lee helped pioneer the practice of allowing students of color to review law school applications from, and advocate for, potential students of color, a practice initiated at NYU and subsequently adopted at other law schools, including Harvard. At the time, there were few students of color — including Asian Pacific Americans — in the law school (there were five Asian Pacific American students in total in his class). Currently, 30 percent of the J.D. student body at NYU are students of color; 16 percent of the Fall 2016 class are Asian and South Asian. As senior vice president and chief legal officer of the Rockefeller Group, Mr. Lee is trusted counsel to one of the country’s most recognized names in real estate development and asset management. Previously, he spent 20 years at New York Life Insurance Company where he became one of the highest ranking Asian Pacific American attorneys in the insurance industry in New York. He served for many years as president of the NAPABA Law Foundation where he is currently on the board and is board chair of the Asian American Justice Center.

From representing Vietnam War protesters in the 1970s to his work with the Asian Law Caucus and other West Coast groups defending the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1988, Willard K. Tom’s impressive 38-year legal career, both in private practice and in government, has demonstrated a sustained commitment to the public good as well as to the enforcement and advancement of antitrust and consumer protection law. In 2000, Mr. Tom left his position as deputy director of the Bureau of Competition of the Federal Trade Commission (the antitrust arm of the FTC) to become a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, but returned to the FTC in 2009 to serve as general counsel, becoming the first Asian American to hold that post. In that position, he took part in the most important FTC matters relating to competition and consumer protection, including three that led to significant FTC victories in the U.S. Supreme Court.

More than thirty years ago, Judge G. Michael Witte became the first Asian Pacific American to be elected a judge in the State of Indiana (1984). Since 2010, Judge Witte has served as the executive director of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, one of the most important and visible positions in the Indiana legal community. He also became the first Asian American to serve as chairperson of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Judicial Division in 2010. He received the prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Award (2009) from his local community and was honored by the ABA National Conference of Specialized Court Judges as its National Distinguished Judge of the Year (2008). His 25 year judicial career included service as judge of the Dearborn County Court, Lawrenceburg, Indiana (1985–2000); judge of the Dearborn Superior Court No. 1 (2000–2008); and judge of the Wayne Superior Court No. 1, Richmond, Indiana (2009).

In 2016, Judge Youlee Yim You, United States Magistrate Judge for the District of Oregon, was appointed as the first Asian American federal judge in Oregon. Before that, in 2007, the Oregon governor appointed her as the first female Asian American trial judge in the state. Prior to her appointment to the bench, Judge You’s legal career focused primarily on criminal law. She served as a prosecutor in Brooklyn, New York; a death penalty staff attorney for the federal court in Los Angeles; and as both an assistant attorney general and public defender in Oregon. Throughout her career, she has served on various legal committees and community organizations, and performed volunteer service, including a month at Mother Teresa’s orphanage in India. She received a pro bono service award from the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (now Asian Americans Advancing Justice) in Los Angeles, an Award of Merit from the Multnomah (OR) Bar Association, and will be receiving an award from the Oregon Asian Pacific American Bar Association in September.

NAPABA congratulates the 2017 Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award recipients and thanks them for paving the way for Asian Pacific American attorneys.

For more information, the media may contact Brett Schuster, NAPABA communications manager, at 202-775-9555 or [email protected].

The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) is the national association of Asian Pacific American attorneys, judges, law professors, and law students. NAPABA represents the interests of almost 50,000 attorneys and approximately 75 national, state, and local Asian Pacific American bar associations. Its members include solo practitioners, large firm lawyers, corporate counsel, legal services and non-profit attorneys, and lawyers serving at all levels of government.

NAPABA continues to be a leader in addressing civil rights issues confronting Asian Pacific American communities. Through its national network of committees and affiliates, NAPABA provides a strong voice for increased diversity of the federal and state judiciaries, advocates for equal opportunity in the workplace, works to eliminate hate crimes and anti-immigrant sentiment, and promotes the professional development of people of color in the legal profession.

To learn more about NAPABA, visit, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter (@NAPABA).

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association | 1612 K St. NW, Suite 510 | Washington, D.C. 20006 |

2016 Fred T. Korematsu Summer Fellowship

Established by a generous gift from Parkin Lee and
The Rockefeller Group, the NAPABA Law Foundation in partnership with the
Fred T. Korematsu Institute have launched the Fred T. Korematsu Summer
Fellowship program.

The Fred T. Korematsu Summer Fellowship provides a
$6000 scholarship for one law student to gain meaningful legal
experience at a public interest host organization. The Fellowship is
open to all rising 1L and 2L law students at any qualified
host organization in the United States. Deadline for organizations to apply is February 5, 2016.
The application will be available on the
NAPABA website

Find out more at

Charting New Frontiers in the C-Suite

By Naf Kwun
AABANY Advocate Editor-in-Chief

Parkin Lee, AABANY Advisory Committee Member and longtime AABANY supporter, is Senior Vice President, Chief Legal Officer (“CLO”) and Secretary of Rockefeller Group International, Inc. (“The Rockefeller Group”).  Recently, he was appointed President and CEO of Rockefeller Group Investment Management (“RGIM”).  

Congratulations!  How did you come to be appointed President and CEO of RGIM? 

I keep telling people that it’s not a big thing!  [RGIM] is a subsidiary created about eight years ago to develop the investment management business for The Rockefeller Group. One of the reasons I came over [from New York Life Insurance Company] [“NYLI”] was to help develop their investment management business and leverage the expertise they had in-house… . [In 2010] The Rockefeller Group acquired an investment management firm in London [i.e., Europa Capital].  Last year, when we acquired TA Realty, which manages over ten billion dollars in assets, we decided to combine its operations with [RGIM’s] … . We relocated all domestic operations to Boston, shed most of [RGIM] employees in New York, and needed leadership.  
As CLO [of The Rockefeller Group], I provided legal support for the acquisition of TA Realty and was one of the only senior officers who was intimately familiar with the deal.  So I was asked to lead [RGIM].  

The interesting aspects of this new position is to make sure that enterprise-wide, everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and to coordinate investments.  On the compliance side … I’m assisting on regular meetings involving Tokyo, Boston, New York, and London to make sure everyone is aware of the issues and that we are addressing the issues consistently across all platforms… . International real estate investment management business is relatively new for the [the parent company,] Mitsubishi Estate [Co. Ltd.], so it’s been interesting to make everyone aware of the compliance requirements and to expand the understanding of how one goes about managing investments and managing businesses across borders.  It’s a little bit of learning on the fly.

How would you describe your career trajectory?  

Random walks.  I had the good luck to have many random walks within [NYLI].  I spent twenty years there, and every few years I changed jobs.  I went in as a private finance attorney.  I had experience as a public finance attorney, though, so when [NYLI] decided to publicly issue bonds, I was the only attorney with the relevant experience and was asked to lead the project.  That gave me exposure to other people and other aspects of the company.  Coming out of that, I was then asked to lead the real estate group, which I did for 7 years.  Then, [NYLI] wanted to expand and developed a mergers and acquisitions team and I was asked to be their attorney.  So I did M&A for a while, then private equity, then venture capital, then derivatives, then investment management work.  Then I found my way back to private finance and securities and headed up that practice.

Did you have any challenging times in your career?  How did you overcome them?

When I was asked to head the real estate attorneys [at NYLI], I had no real estate experience.  There were five attorneys, all more senior than I was, and most had titles above my title.  In order to head up the group, they had to promote me two levels.  I had to establish my credentials with the attorneys and gain their trust.  I did that by taking on significant responsibilities and showing them that I could learn on the job.  

[For example,] [w]e had the country divvied up geographically.  I came into the position in the late 80s, early 90s, during a real estate recession.  There was a lot of restructuring and bankruptcies in the portfolio.  I took Texas and Louisiana, which were two of the busiest states for bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures.  There was a lot of learning on the job, rolling up my sleeves, and diving deep into the issues.

You are an attorney who leads a legal team and who will now also be leading the business and operations side of a company.  What challenges do you expect down the road?

Being CLO is pretty much half a business role anyway, so you need to have a big view of things, a high level perspective of the issues, and an understanding of the business.  You have to be facile with the financial numbers and have an understanding of the goals and objectives of the business people.

What’s interesting is the number of former attorneys leading business groups.  The head of our industrial development team is a former lawyer, the head of our urban development team is a former lawyer, and so are a few of our regional officers.  Legal training and the skill sets you develop as an attorney definitely come in handy:  the ability to analyze situations, identify what are important versus non-important issues, and come up with interesting constructs to achieve a certain outcome given the materials at hand.

What was your first leadership position?  How would you describe your leadership style?

My first leadership position was at [NYLI], heading the real estate group.  My leadership style is know what your team is doing and make sure they know what each other is doing.  Have an open door policy.  Encourage discussion of issues.  Encourage people to share ideas and thoughts and to help each other learn.  For example, when I’m hiring, I look for people who have the knowledge and experience to do the job, but in terms of character and personality, I look for people who have intellectual curiosity, interests outside of the law.  That to me indicates an open mind and that they are receptive to new ideas.

What impact has your ethnicity had your career?

I don’t think it has, at least not in my career.  Has it made a difference?  It’s really how other people perceive you.  If you had asked me at different times in my career, I would have given you different answers.

I was an anomaly when I started practicing law in ‘81 at Dewey Ballantine.  I was the only Asian American attorney out of about 360 attorneys.  I’m not sure people knew what to make of me.  That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing.  No one came at me with preconceived notions, so it was sort of a blank slate.  I had to prove myself.  I don’t think there were any negative connotations.

You are very active in APA bar associations such as AABANY and NAPABA.  Why is it important to you to participate in these organizations? 

There are still issues that need to be addressed by Asian American organizations like AABANY, AALDEF and NAPABA.  Mainstream organizations do not have the sensitivity or desire to go after such issues.  

From the legal and professional development standpoint, I think Asian Americans still have problems becoming partners at law firms and need greater representation in-house.  We’ve made strides, and it’s been gratifying to see the progress, but more progress needs to be made, especially in the partner ranks.

What role have mentors played in your career?  What role do they continue to play?  

It’s always great to be able to call up people and have an honest discussion, and to have others’ insights on personal and professional issues you may be having.  That is really important.  Whether you call them mentors or friends, it’s always valuable to have different viewpoints.  AABANY and NAPABA have been great avenues for me to meet people on an ad hoc basis who can offer confidential, sincere, and honest opinions and who can do so because they have no personal vested interest otherwise.  I have a nice network of people that I feel safe talking to about just about everything.  That came out of the work I do at AABANY and NAPABA.

What’s the best career advice you have ever received?

Maintain flexibility.  Going back to when I was asked to head the Real Estate group [at NYLI].  I get a call from the General Counsel’s Office.  She says, “Parkin, I want you to lead the Real Estate Group.”  I tell her, “I know nothing about real estate.”  She says, “You’ll learn.”  I tell her, “You realize you’ll have six very difficult personalities in that group.”  She says, “Yes.  By the way, this is highly confidential.  You are not allowed to talk to anyone in this department about this.”  Thankfully, there were two senior attorneys who had just joined the business side and whom I was friendly with.  Both said to me, “This is going to be a challenge.  It’s not going to be easy.  But opportunities like this do not come along every day.  You’ve gotta do it.”  They were absolutely right.  

There are times when you are asked to do something that seems frightening and difficult, but the people asking you do it have faith in you and that’s why they’re asking you.  You have to have the same amount of faith in yourself.

Any advice for our readers who aspire to follow in your footsteps to the C-suite?

The best route to advancement in-house is to be open to doing different things.  If people ask you to take on a job or project that’s a little bit outside of your wheelhouse, do it.  The educational experience is well worth it.  You’ll meet people within the company you otherwise would not have had a chance to meet.  You’ll expand your network, expand your visibility within the company, and expand your experience and knowledge. 

This article was originally published in the Fall 2015, Volume XVI, Issue IV of The AABANY Advocate, which can be read in its entirety here. To see all past versions of The AABANY Advocate,click here. To learn more about AABANY’s newsletter, you can email [email protected].

Rockefeller CEO Leaves, Takes Role at Rival

Rockefeller CEO Leaves, Takes Role at Rival

Congratulations to Parkin Lee!


Parkin Lee, AABANY Advisory Committee member, will be honored at the New York Immigration Coalition’s 10th Annual Builders of the New New York Awards. Parkin Lee is Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer & Secretary of The Rockefeller Group. He was chosen for his outstanding service to New York society and initiative in community-building. The award will be presented on June 23, 2014 at Capitale. For more information on the gala, please click here.

Please join AABANY in congratulating Parkin for this well-deserved honor.

AALDEF: Report from 2012 Gala

February 10, 2012 – CNN Host Fareed Zakaria, Yale Law School Professor Jean Koh Peters, and Parkin Lee of The Rockefeller Group were honored with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s (AALDEF) 2012 Justice in Action Awards on February 8, 2012.

Juju Chang, Emmy Award-winning correspondent for ABC News Nightline, and Sree Sreenivasan, Dean of Student Affairs and digital media professor at Columbia Journalism School, were the co-emcees for the banquet, with Daily Show correspondent, actor, and master of satire Aasif Mandvi as the special guest. Chang and Sreenivasan, both long time supporters of AALDEF, began by sharing their highlights of the past year, from Chang’s interviews with celebrities like Celine Dion to Sreenivasan’s ambush by right-wing activist James O’Keefe.

Over 800 leaders in civil rights, law, business, and the arts attended the ceremony at Pier Sixty in New York City. Among the guests were past Justice in Action Award recipients including actor BD Wong, AB Cruz III, Harold Koh, Sandra Leung, and Don Liu. Elected officials and judges were also part of the crowd, including New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin, and Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who currently graces the cover of TIME magazine (leading emcee Sreenivasan to joke that his celebrity factor was compensation for New York Knicks player Jeremy Lin’s absence.)

AALDEF Executive Director Margaret Fung wished the audience a happy lunar new year and reminded them of the necessity of their support. “There are reports of the NYPD’s targeting of Muslims and South Asians under the guise of national security,” said Fung. “Just this week, the Superbowl featured a racist political ad by Republican candidate Pete Hoekstra mocking Chinese people. So in the Year of the Dragon, we have our work cut out for us.”

The power of the immigrant experience in the United States was a theme throughout all three acceptance speeches. “We are creating the first universal nation,” said honoree Fareed Zakaria. “Ten years before I became a citizen, I began using the word ‘we’ to describe the United States. There isn’t a country like this where people from all over the world come and are entirely included in the process.” (View clip on YouTube)

Parkin Lee, former president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) Law Foundation and Vice President of The Rockefeller Group, spoke about his childhood growing up in a Chinese hand laundry after World War II. “This country was built on the strength and creativity of immigrants who came here and made lives for themselves,” said Lee.

Honoree Jean Koh Peters, the renowned children’s rights and immigrants’ rights scholar, reminded the audience of the value of public service. “Never let your skill exceed your virtue,” Peters said.

The night ended with Aasif Mandvi’s hilarious and deeply politically incorrect stand-up. “I thought they were filming this portion of the show for Comedy Central, but really it’s for the NYPD,” he began. Mandvi added, “AALDEF is at the forefront of fighting for the rights of Muslim Americans. If you believe that all Americans should live in a free and equal society – and I can’t imagine why you would – then please support the organization.”

Since 1987, AALDEF has awarded the Justice in Action Award to exceptional individuals for their efforts in advancing social justice and human rights for Asian Americans. Past Justice in Action Award recipients include the late civil rights icons Fred Korematsu and Gordon Hirabayashi, David Henry Hwang, Mira Nair, Deval Patrick, Salman Rushdie, Seymour Hersh, Charles Ogletree, Jr., Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Harry Belafonte, Juan Gonzalez, Margaret Cho, and Yoko Ono.

The Rockefeller Group was a 2012 Justice Circle sponsor.

All proceeds from the Lunar New Year Gala will go directly towards supporting AALDEF’s legal and educational programs in immigrant rights, economic justice for workers, voting rights and civic participation, affirmative action, language access to services, youth rights and educational equity, housing and environmental justice, Census policy, and the elimination of hate violence, police misconduct, and human trafficking.

View video clips from the awards at the Justice in Action webpage >

Please credit the following images to Lia Chang.

For more information, photos, videos, and updates, visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.


Ujala Sehgal
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[email protected]


The AALDEF Lunar New Year Gala will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at Pier Sixty, Chelsea Piers.  Among the recipients of the Justice in Action Award this year will be Parkin Lee. Parkin is an active member of AABANY and NAPABA, and we congratulate him on this great honor.

AABANY invites its members to join AABANY at the AALDEF Gala with a special offer. For just $125 per person, you can get a ticket to this excellent event.  Go on-line to and submit your payment via the website. Use the Payment for Dinner/Event option and indicate AALDEF Gala in the memo field.  Please do so by Feb. 1.

We hope to see you at the AALDEF Gala.

AALDEF Lunar New Year Gala