WASHINGTON – The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) mourns the passing of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a trailblazer in our Nation and the first woman on the Supreme Court of the United States.
“For a generation, Justice O’Connor blazed the trail for those who thought that the highest pinnacle of the legal profession was unattainable,” said Anna Mercado Clark, President of NAPABA. “She proved that not only was it possible, but inevitable. During her tenure on the Court, she addressed the Nation’s most difficult issues and strived for consensus—a hallmark of her career both before and during her time on the Court. Even during her retirement, Justice O’Connor devoted her time to service and championed the cause of civic education—a cause that goes to the core of our democracy. On behalf of the entire NAPABA community, we send our heartfelt condolences to her family.”
Despite graduating near the top of her class at Stanford Law School, Justice O’Connor struggled to find a role within the profession and was initially offered a secretarial position. Steadily through the course of her life, she demonstrated the tenacity that led to her success. She started her legal career in public service in California and later in Arizona. She served in the Arizona Senate, becoming the first woman to ever serve as Majority Leader. Justice O’Connor then served on the Maricopa County Superior Court in 1974, ultimately being elevated to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1979. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Justice O’Connor for the Supreme Court, and the United States Senate confirmed her nomination with a vote of 99-0. She retired from the Court in 2006.
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WASHINGTON – The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) mourns the passing of Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz, who died Saturday morning from injuries sustained after a driver struck her while she was walking in a crosswalk.
“Judge Mroz’s tragic passing is an immense loss for the Arizona community and the legal community at large,” said NAPABA President A.B. Cruz III. “Judge Mroz made history as the first Asian American female judge of the Superior Court of Arizona and served in the role for nearly two decades. She was someone who not only had an outstanding list of accomplishments but was also a role model and mentor for others. We will remember and honor her for always fighting for justice and leading with great compassion. We send condolences to her loved ones during this difficult time.”
Arizona Asian American Bar Association President John Gray states, “For decades, Judge Mroz was a pillar of the Asian American community and of the legal community more generally. Yet, we still lost her far too soon. She showed countless women and people of color what is possible—that anyone can ascend to the highest and most respected positions of our profession with integrity and grace. Since Judge Mroz took the bench, fortunately, many more Asian Americans and women have held the gavel in our state, which is a testament to her pioneering spirit, mentorship, and leadership.”
Judge Curtis Kin, President of the NAPABA Judicial Council, states, “We are saddened by the news of Judge Mroz’s tragic death. She was a true trailblazer for APAs in the legal profession, and our Judicial Council family expresses its deep condolences and sympathies to Judge Mroz’s family.”
Judge Mroz served as Superior Court judge for the fourth largest court system in the nation and presided over more than one thousand family, civil, and criminal cases. She was a member of the Arizona Asian American Bar Association for three decades and was active in several professional and community activities.
NAPABA honored Judge Mroz with the Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award in 2020, a lifetime achievement award that recognizes the outstanding achievements, commitment, and leadership of lawyers who have paved the way for the advancement of other AAPI attorneys. In her awardee video, Judge Mroz described being a first-generation immigrant and offered advice for young lawyers.
The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), represents the interests of over 60,000 Asian Pacific American (APA) legal professionals and nearly 90 national, state, and local APA bar associations. NAPABA is a leader in addressing civil rights issues confronting APA communities. Through its national network, 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 all backgrounds in the legal profession.
The Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award, NAPABA’s premier lifetime honor, recognizes Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) attorneys who have spent their careers advocating for AAPIs within the legal profession, becoming pioneers in their field of practice. This year, Andrew (“Andy”) T. Hahn Sr., one of the 2021 Trailblazer Award recipients, will join the ranks of those distinguished for their contributions.
For Andy Hahn, leadership and service have always been integral components of his career path. Andy has accumulated a plethora of impressive accolades and achievements over his career spanning more than three decades, such as: US Army JAG officer, successful commercial litigator, and President of NAPABA, AABANY, and KALAGNY.
Andy has continually had to prove, both to himself and to others, that, as a son of Korean American immigrants, he could succeed in his career and find a place within American society as an Asian American.
“Growing up as a kid…I stuck out like a sore thumb,” Andy recalls. “I was subject to a lot of bullying and bigotry.”
It was this resentment of ostracization (as well as a fascination with guns and explosives in his youth) that motivated Andy to enlist in the military. He quickly found his niche in the armed forces, graduating as a Distinguished Military Graduate from Cornell University, with ambitions to pursue a full-time military career in the Special Forces. Andy’s mother, disagreeing with his choice, instead encouraged him to aim for a career in law. Fortunately, becoming a lawyer was Andy’s additional career interest. After being granted a deferment from active duty, Andy completed his legal studies at Cornell Law School.
With a desire to meet more Asian lawyers with similar backgrounds as himself, Andy discovered AABANY early in his career. As an AABANY member, he met Chris Chang, one of the founding members of AABANY and a former chair of the Judiciary Committee. Chris became a valuable mentor to Andy as he explored the workings of the New York court system.
In the past, many Asian Americans practiced law within the transactional fields, such as corporate law and real estate law, and as Andy noted, “none of [the fields] which involved the adversarial process.” In Andy’s view, language barriers and improved career prospects in transactional law contributed to the lack of Asian Americans within litigation. As he gained litigation experience, Andy continued to stand out in becoming one of the first waves of AAPI attorneys to attain partnership at a big law firm in New York City.
Andy remains a firm believer in the power of mentorship and guidance for those just starting out in their careers. Recalling his experience meeting and mentoring law school students and graduates, Andy observed that many Asian Americans remain as “first generation Asian lawyers” within their families; these students or graduates could point to no one in their family who had been involved in the legal profession. At a time when Asian American interest in law is increasing, creating more opportunities for mentorship becomes even more critical.
Andy believes that anti-Asian hate remains the single greatest threat to the AAPI community and AAPI legal professionals today. Until the onset of the pandemic Andy has never seen a high prevalence of anti-Asian hate during his decades of involvement with AABANY and NAPABA, but he notes that there always has been an “undercurrent” of perceiving Asian Americans as foreign. Despite the widespread social movements that have catapulted issues of race and diversity into the national spotlight, Andy feels that big law firm and corporate commitments to diversity and inclusion remain “a lot of lip service.”
“If you look at … the statistics, [attorneys of color] within law firms have not improved in the last two decades…. By the time you get to the leadership positions, it’s pretty much all white people.” For Andy, who serves as Chief Diversity Officer at Hawkins, Delafield, and Wood LLP, his formula for maintaining diversity at his own law firm is simple: recruitment, retention, and promotion. It’s a formula that organizations, such as AABANY, continue to advocate for.
In light of the challenges Asian Americans face, Andy observes positive changes within the Asian American community: “If there is any silver lining with some of this anti-Asian hate, it brings our community together…. We’ve learned … how to stand up for ourselves.” Certainly, through his career as a litigator, leader, and advocate, Andy has never ceased to stand up for himself, the legal profession, and the Asian American community. His achievements and accomplishments demonstrate his endless “vision, courage, and tenacity” needed to become a pioneer, as well as his willingness to break barriers and stereotypes in his career path.
NAPABA will hold a reception on Friday evening, December 10, for all the Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award honorees at the Convention in Washington, D.C., and the awards will be presented at the Gala Dinner on Saturday evening. Please join AABANY in congratulating Andy Hahn on this well-deserved honor and recognition!
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.
Justice Tom’s first bench in the Appellate Division of the State of New York.
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.
Justice Tom served as Acting Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department in 2007, 2009, and 2016.
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.
WASHINGTON – The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) celebrates the nomination of California Assemblymember Rob Bonta to be the state’s next attorney general. Bonta will be the first Filipino American to hold the position. In 2015, Bonta received NAPABA’s prestigious Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award for his outstanding achievements, commitment, and leadership in paving the way for the advancement of other Asian Pacific American attorneys.
“We congratulate Assemblymember Rob Bonta on his historic nomination and thank Governor Newsom for his selection. Attorney General Designate Bonta embodies the best of our community,” said A.B. Cruz III, president of NAPABA. “The son of AAPI civil rights activists, Attorney General Designate Bonta has spent his career fighting for justice and representation for people of color. As the first Filipino assemblymember in California, Attorney General Designate Bonta passed major reforms, including strengthening hate crime laws to protect communities like ours. With the increasing prevalence of hate incidents against AAPIs, we are confident that Attorney General Designate Bonta will ensure that these disturbing incidences are quickly investigated and prosecuted.”
Bonta has served extensively in the public sector. Prior to being elected as assemblymember, he was Deputy City Attorney of San Francisco. Bonta clerked for Judge Alvin Thompson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. He is a graduate of Yale University, Oxford University and Yale Law School.
We thank Governor Newsom for his nomination.
The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) represents the interests of approximately 50,000 legal professionals and nearly 90 national, state, and local Asian Pacific American bar associations. NAPABA is a leader in addressing civil rights issues confronting Asian Pacific American communities. Through its national network, 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.
AABANY congratulates Kenneth Chin on being presented with the New York State Bar Association’s Diversity Trailblazer Award at the John E. Higgins, Esq. Diversity Trailblazer Award Ceremony on Jan. 27, 2020 at the New York Hilton Midtown. Ken is a Partner and the Banking and Finance Chair at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP and longstanding member of AABANY. The award recognizes Ken for his transformative work to promote and achieve diversity and inclusion at his firm and in New York’s Asian American community.
Congratulations to Hon. Randall T. Eng, retired Presiding Justice of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, on receiving the Charles W. Froessel Award from Queens County Bar Association at its Annual Dinner held on May 2 at Terrace on the Park in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. This award celebrates Justice Eng’s achievements as a legal professional and honors his contributions to the Queens County Bar Association.
Justice Eng was born in Guangzhou, China, and was raised in New York City. He received a Juris Doctor degree from St. John’s University School of Law in 1972. Upon graduating from law school, Justice Eng served as an assistant district attorney in Queens. In 1983, Justice Eng was appointed to the Criminal Court of the City of New York by Mayor Edward I. Koch. In 1988, Justice Eng was appointed to serve as an Acting Justice of New York State Supreme Court. In 1990, Justice Eng was elected to stay in the position and was re-elected in 2004. Between 2007 and 2008, Justice Eng was appointed to serve a short term as Administrative Judge of the Criminal Term of Queens County Supreme Court, and he served in this role until he was elevated to the Appellate Division in 2008. In 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Justice Eng to lead the Second Department as the presiding justice, where he oversaw one of the busiest judicial departments in the country. This appointment made Justice Eng the first Asian American to serve as a presiding justice in New York State. Justice Eng retired from the bench and joined Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, P.C. as Of Counsel in January 2018.
Over his long and prolific legal career, Justice Eng has received numerous honors, including AABANY’s Norman Lau Kee Trailblazer Award in 2017, OCA-NY Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018, and the Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award in 2016, the highest honor bestowed by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, of which AABANY is an affiliate.
As AABANY President Brian Song stated: “AABANY congratulates Justice Eng on receiving the Charles W. Froessel Award from the Queens County Bar Association,” states AABANY President Brian Song, “It is yet another well-deserved recognition of Justice Eng’s achievements as a prominent jurist who has led the way for generations of attorneys and judges to follow his example. During May, when we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, it is a most fitting tribute that we recognize and honor the milestones and achievements of role models like Justice Randall Eng. None of us would be here today were it not for Justice Eng and other APA judges and lawyers who led the way.”
Please join AABANY in congratulating Hon. Randall T. Eng .
The Hon. Randall Eng (Ret.), New York state’s first Asian American Presiding Justice, was honored with the OCA-NY Lifetime Achievement Award on Friday, September 28, at OCA-NY’s 42nd Annual Community Service & Leadership Awards Gala. Justice Eng has dedicated himself to public service for over three decades in a variety of positions. He served as the first Asian American Assistant District Attorney in his hometown of Queens County (1973-1980), the Deputy Inspector General of New York City (1980-1981), and also the Inspector General of New York City (1981-1983). In 2016, Judge Eng was awarded NAPABA’s highest honor, the Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award, and in 2017, he received AABANY’s Norman Lau Kee Trailblazer Award. The OCA-NY Lifetime Achievement Award is yet another well-earned recognition of both his contributions to New York State and the Asian American attorney community. Please join AABANY in congratulating Justice Eng on this well-deserved award and honor.
Justice Peter Tom paid tribute to Asian American trailblazer and community leader Norman Lau Kee in the December 13 edition of the New York Law Journal:
Recently a prominent Chinese American attorney in New York City quietly passed away at the age of 90, receiving little attention outside the Asian community. However, the passing of Norman Lau Kee represents a significant historic milestone and was a major news event in the city’s Chinese community.
Norman Lau Kee was one of the pioneers of the legal profession in Chinatown. He was a grandson of Chinese immigrants, a successful academic, a World War II veteran and most significantly, was part of a very small vanguard of Asian lawyers who first provided legal representation for Chinatown residents beginning in the 1950s. However, these accomplishments only tell part of the story of the lifelong achievements of Norman Lau Kee and his well-accomplished family.
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