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Dale Minami Reflects on California’s 100-Plus API Judges Milestone

Dale Minami Reflects on California’s 100-Plus API Judges Milestone

By Dale Minami

The Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (AABA) recently held a celebration of California’s 100 Asian Pacific Islander (API) judges, a significant milestone in our history.

In 1976, when we began a concerted campaign to appoint API and other minority judges to the California Bench, there were only 15 API sitting Judges. With the election then of a new, liberal Governor, Jerry Brown, we saw an opportunity to get appointments to diversify our Judiciary.

In Northern California at that time, there were no API judges in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, or San Mateo counties, one in Santa Clara, one in Sacramento, and two in San Francisco. One of those two in San Francisco was Judge Harry Low who has continued to support AABA to this day!

But first we had to find qualified candidates, no easy task since there was not a large pool of API attorneys at that time. One, however, was Ken Kawaichi, who became the first API judge in Alameda County. Another was Lillian Sing who became the first API woman judge in Northern California. And as the pool of qualified candidates grew, we obtained many more appointments over the years leading to last month’s celebration. Today, we have approximately 130 API sitting judges in California, which is an incredible achievement for our community.

The impact of these diverse appointments cannot be overstated. When I first appeared in courts in 1972, I was met with hostility, implicit bias, and outright racism. One judge refused to appoint an interpreter for my Cantonese client, asking “Well, why don’t you interpret for him?” to which I explained that I was Japanese and that my client was Chinese, and the two ethnic groups came from different countries and had different languages.

Reluctantly, and with great sarcasm, he accepted the explanation and appointed an interpreter. On another occasion, I was about to enter a judge’s chambers for a pre-trial hearing in a criminal case when I heard him say “There sure are a lot of niggers out there” to the District Attorney who was already in chambers. And when I entered the room, he tried to defuse the racism of his comments by making an apparent joke of his slur – “And a lot of chinks too!” Subtle racism was also manifested in the supercilious dismissal of arguments, condescension towards minority attorneys, and outright favoritism to non-API attorneys and their clients.

But I’ve learned that having one person of color or one from a marginalized group on the bench can modify the behavior of the entire court. After Ken was appointed, the overt and subtle discrimination seemed to subside. And the appointment of Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, the first woman jurist on the United States District Court in Northern California, changed the culture of that bench.

But modifying the overt or covert behavior of judges toward attorneys of color and their clients is not the only reason to diversify the bench. We all benefit when the judiciary truly reflects the communities that it serves. The legal system engenders respect when justice is dispensed by qualified jurists who look like us and our clients.

Decisions are made with greater sensitivity by jurists who have empathy through their own experiences, an understanding of historical perspectives, and an appreciation of how their decisions affect different communities. It may be no coincidence that most of the decisions made against President’s Trump’s travel ban and separation of immigrants at the border were made by API judges in Hawai’i, Maryland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

So why have the ranks of API jurists increased dramatically in the last 40 years? Obviously, our pool of candidates has increased as dramatically and those willing to take the risk to apply have increased. When we see API judges on the bench, it encourages others to believe they can also be appointed.

We were fortunate to have leaders such as Governors Jerry Brown and Pat Brown, and Judicial Appointments Secretaries such as now Justice Anthony Kline, Sharon Majors Lewis, and Joshua Groban, who are committed to diversity. We know that newly appointed Appointments Secretary, former state appellate court Justice Martin Jenkins, is also committed to diversity and will walk that same path.

And significantly, we have witnessed the growth and assertiveness of the API bar associations who are actively recruiting, lobbying and mentoring judicial candidates. In fact, one of the central reasons we started AABA was to gain representation in the courts, the bar, and in the legal community. AABA has made a powerful and successful effort to accomplish this goal.

But there is much to be done. We need to continue pushing for a diverse judiciary from all communities of color and increasing representation. Also, when judges are being challenged for reelection because of their appearance, or their “foreign” sounding names, or because of the political affiliation of the governor who appointed them, rather than for their competence and qualifications, we need to stand up and offer strong support. The diversification of the bench is too important and took too much effort to go backwards now.

Photo via Lisa P. Mak.

Lisa Mak Elected Secretary of AABA, Joins NAPAWF Legal Advisory Board

Lisa Mak Elected Secretary of AABA, Joins NAPAWF Legal Advisory Board

Associate Lisa P. Mak (fifth from left in photo) was elected Secretary of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (AABA), one of the largest Asian American bar associations in the nation and one of the largest minority bar associations in California. She also starts her second term on the AABA board of directors.

Lisa was a presenter at an AABA MCLE “mini-marathon” on January 23 in San Francisco in a session titled “Mind the Gap: Pay Equity and the Legal Profession” in which she discussed the Federal and California Equal Pay Acts, pay equity issues in the legal profession, pay equity litigation, and best practices for addressing pay inequity.

Lisa also joined the new Legal Advisory Board of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). The board consists of experienced, practicing attorneys who are passionate about NAPAWF’s mission and work and will advise and support the work of the legal program and its Director as the program develops. NAPAWF is the only national, multi-issue Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women’s organization in the country, dedicated to building a movement to advance social justice and human rights for AAPI women and girls.

Photo via Charles Jung.

Twelfth Annual Dale Minami Berkeley Law Alumni Fellowship Dinner: ‘Asian Americans in the Era of Resistance’

Twelfth Annual Dale Minami Berkeley Law Alumni Fellowship Dinner: ‘Asian Americans in the Era of Resistance’

The 12th Annual Dale Minami Public Interest Fellowship Dinner was held on January 25 at Harborview Restaurant in San Francisco. Bryan Springmeyer and Vina Ha founded the fellowship in 2007 to support outstanding Berkeley Law graduates who commit to serving the public interest.

This year’s fellowship dinner theme was “Asian Americans in the Era of Resistance” and featured Daniel Sakaguchi as the fellowship’s Berkeley Law Alumni Honoree and the selection of Christina Yang as the 2019 Dale Minami Public Interest Fellow.

In remarks at the event, firm partner Don Tamaki said: “The parallels between the Korematsu case and the travel ban are very disturbing. … Both involved the government invoking national security in order to shield its decisions from judicial scrutiny. Both involved high officials targeting a minority with racist … sentiment, and both involved hidden government reports that the government refused to disclose for which it claimed was the basis of this sweeping deprivation of civil liberties. And lastly, both ended in the courts standing down, not asking any questions, abdicating its role to be a check and balance on the unbridled exercise of executive power.”

Minami Tamaki LLP was proud to be a sponsor of this event.

Photo via Lisa P. Mak.

Don Tamaki Leads SF Japantown Foundation to Another Successful New Year’s Celebration Fundraiser

Don Tamaki Leads SF Japantown Foundation to Another Successful New Year’s Celebration Fundraiser

Minami Tamaki LLP sponsored the San Francisco Japantown Foundation annual New Year’s Celebration on Jan. 10, an event that raised $176,000 to support the Foundation’s mission to support cultural, community and educational activities in San Francisco Japantown.

Firm partner Donald Tamaki has served as the Foundation’s board president since the organization was founded. He also co-chaired the event with board members Diane Matsuda and Jerry Ono.

The Foundation was formed in December 2006 through generous endowments by Kintetsu Enterprises of America, Jack Hirose, Hats and Amey Aizawa, Union Bank and Minami Tamaki LLP.

The event, which was held at the Hotel Kabuki, featured Osechi Ryori, a traditional Japanese New Year’s cuisine and featured dishes and drinks from Sushi Ran, Pabu Izakaya, Sanraku, Izumiya, Super Mira, DELICA, YamaSho, Azuma Foods, Ito En, Iichiko, True Sake, Aiya, and Takara Sake.

Since 2006, the Japantown Foundation has provided grants to nonprofit projects that support Japantown and the Japanese American community. The Foundation held the fundraiser to involve more individual donors to support the future of Japantown and the Japanese American community.

The Foundation is dedicated to preserving and honoring Japantown’s history; welcoming and serving its residents, visitors, businesses, congregations and community organizations; and supporting the growth and development of the community’s Japanese cultural theme.

See photos of the event.

Video: Don Tamaki on the Role of Bar Organizations in Advancing Representation

Video: Don Tamaki on the Role of Bar Organizations in Advancing Representation

Donald Tamaki, Minami Tamaki LLP Partner and community leader, discusses in this video the progress made in advancing Asian American representation in the legal community and about the work yet to do.

This is the first in series of videos by the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area with prominent Asian American attorneys and judges.

Minami Tamaki at NAPABA Convention 2018

Minami Tamaki at NAPABA Convention 2018

Minami Tamaki LLP attorneys Dale Minami, Don Tamaki, Sean Tamura-Sato, Lisa Mak, and Seema Bhatt recently attended the annual National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) National Convention in Chicago. The Convention had over 2,000 Asian Pacific American attorneys, judges, law students, and elected officials attending from around the country.

This year, Dale, Don, and Karen Korematsu (Founder & Executive Director of The Fred T. Korematsu Institute) were awarded the NAPABA President’s Award.  This award recognizes NAPABA members who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to NAPABA, the legal community, and the broader APA community.

Dale, Don, and Karen received this year’s award for their work on the “Stop Repeating History” campaign (StopRepeatingHistory.Org), which educates the public on the dangers of unchecked presidential power and the parallels between the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the current administration’s policies targeting minority groups based on race or religion.  In his award acceptance remarks, Don urged APA attorneys to lead on this issue due to our communities’ experience with racist and xenophobic immigration policies.

Partners Donald K. Tamaki (left) and Dale Minami (right) meeting audience members after their panel on the Korematsu v. United States and Trump v. Hawaii cases.

Don and Karen also spoke on a panel with Hoyt Zia (an original founding member of NAPABA), and moderated by Dale, about the parallels between the Korematsu v. United States and Trump v. Hawaii cases.  Don and Dale were members of the legal team that overturned Fred Korematsu’s conviction for his defiance of Japanese American exclusion orders during World War II.  

The panel discussion was preceded by a screening of the powerful film, “And Then They Came For Us,” which compares the Japanese American incarceration with the Muslim travel ban.  The film, produced by Peabody award-winning director Abby Ginzberg, won the 2018 ABA Silver Gavel Award, and has been a cornerstone of the “Stop Repeating History” campaign.

Associate Lisa P. Mak (second from left and on screen) served as panelist for a plenary session on the #MeToo movement.

Lisa was a panelist for a convention plenary luncheon session entitled “Beyond #MeToo: How Asian Americans Can Challenge Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,” with about 1,000 attendees.  The all-women panel discussed the impact of the #MeToo movement in the workplace, strategies to improve equality for women in the legal industry, and the unique challenges of addressing sexual harassment in APA communities.  During her remarks, Lisa emphasized the importance of being upstanders and allies for harassment victims in order to create a cultural change for the fair treatment of women.

Our firm also helped to sponsor the NAPABA Solo & Small Firm Network (SSF) stipend program, which provides funds for SSF committee members to attend the conference and future NAPABA events.  “Minami Tamaki is a longtime proponent of SSF’s work, including the committee’s CLE Bootcamp that provides legal skills training and business advice to SSF attendees at the Convention. The firm is proud to contribute to SSF’s mission of building and supporting APA-owned law firms,” said Partner Sean Tamura-Sato.

Partner Sean Tamura-Sato (left), Associate Lisa P. Mak (right), with other attendees at one of the NAPABA convention lunches.

This year, the late San Francisco Mayor Edwin Mah Lee was honored with the Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award, NAPABA’s most prestigious award which recognizes the outstanding achievements, commitment, and leadership of lawyers who have paved the way for the advancement of other APA attorneys.  The Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (AABA) spearheaded the nomination of Mayor Lee for this award.

Our firm congratulates outgoing President Pankit Doshi from San Francisco for his successful leadership this year. Daniel Sakaguchi, also from San Francisco, was sworn in as the new NAPABA President. Both Pankit and Daniel are members of AABA, which was co-founded by Dale Minami over 40 years ago.

Minami Tamaki is proud to continue supporting NAPABA and its efforts to address civil rights issues, promote professional development, and increase diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.

Photo credits: John B. Lough, Lisa P. Mak, Betty Hsu, Winston Liaw

We Will Never Stop Fighting

We Will Never Stop Fighting

The Minami Tamaki law firm has a long history of fighting for the rights of people of color, women, immigrants, marginalized people, and others.

Last year we reconvened the legal team that represented Fred Korematsu in the 1980s to reopen his terrible landmark case legalizing the incarceration of entire racial population for no good reason.  We joined the Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of Law and the law firm of Akin Gump in representing Karen Korematsu, Jay Hirabayashi, and Holly Yasui, the adult children of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Min Yasui, to file an amicus brief in the Supreme Court’s review of the Muslim Ban.

We also created a parallel public education effort through the Stop Repeating History campaign (, a project of the MTYKL Foundation.

We needed to remind the Court of the civil liberties disaster 75 years ago, when the Court failed to question the executive branch and simply took its word for it that the incarceration of Japanese Americans was necessary for national security.

Disappointingly, the Court this week upheld the Muslim Ban, 5-4. We have very mixed feelings, and on balance, most of those feelings are negative.  We’re angry but determined to keep fighting.

Here’s one major positive: the Court got one thing partially right. After nearly 75 years, the Court overruled Korematsu, taking “the opportunity to express what is already obvious: Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and—to be clear—“has no place in law under the Constitution.” 323 U.S., at 248 (Jackson, J., dissenting).”  That means a lot to our families who were incarcerated.

But the Court’s repudiation of the decision in Korematsu tells only half the story. Although it correctly rejected the abhorrent race-based relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans, it failed to recognize — and reject — the rationale that led to its infamous decision.

In fact, it repeated its mistakes, rubber-stamping (without asking any questions) the government’s bald assertions that the “immigration travel ban” is justified by national security.  For targeted Muslims, refugees and immigrants, and their children being held in Walmart-turned-into-cages, this week’s ruling is appalling.

Nevertheless, the Court has overruled Korematsu, a very dangerous precedent.

Out of the more than 100 amicus briefs filed in this case, our brief representing Karen Korematsu, Jay Hirabayashi, and Holly Yasui (the children of Fred, Gordon and Min, the WWII challengers) is cited in Justice Sotomayor’s dissent:

“As here, the Government was unwilling to reveal its own intelligence agencies’ views of the alleged security concerns to the very citizens it purported to protect. Compare Korematsu v. United States, 584 F. Supp. 1406, 1418–1419 (ND Cal. 1984) (discussing information the Government knowingly omitted from report presented to the courts justifying the executive order); Brief for Japanese American Citizens League as Amicus Curiae 17–19, with IRAP II, 883 F. 3d, at 268; Brief for Karen Korematsu et al. as Amici Curiae 35–36, and n. 5 (noting that the Government “has gone to great lengths to shield [the Secretary of Homeland Security’s] report from view”).  And as here, there was strong evidence that impermissible hostility and animus motivated the Government’s policy.”

Sotomayor’s dissent nails what’s wrong with the majority’s decision:

“Today, the Court takes the important step of finally overruling Korematsu, denouncing it as “gravely wrong the day it was decided.”  Ante, at 38 (citing Korematsu, 323 U. S., at 248 (Jackson, J., dissenting)). This formal repudiation of a shameful precedent is laudable and long overdue.  But it does not make the majority’s decision here acceptable or right.  By blindly accepting the Government’s misguided invitation to sanction a discriminatory policy motivated by animosity toward a disfavored group, all in the name of a superficial claim of national security, the Court redeploys the same dangerous logic underlying Korematsu and merely replaces one “gravely wrong” decision with another.  Ante, at 38. Our Constitution demands, and our country deserves, a Judiciary willing to hold the coordinate branches to account when they defy our most sacred legal commitments. Because the Court’s decision today has failed in that respect, with profound regret, I dissent.”

Unfortunately, this is likely to embolden Trump to become more extreme, and detention camps are already in the works around the country.

We invite you to join us in continuing this important effort. Your donation to our Stop Repeating History campaign ( will help us fight today’s injustices by educating the country about the shameful legacy left by the Japanese American incarceration.

Together we will continue this fight.

Donald K. Tamaki
Partner, Minami Tamaki LLP
Board of Directors, MTYKL Foundation

Remarks by Donald Tamaki in Tribute to Mayor Ed Lee

Remarks by Donald Tamaki in Tribute to Mayor Ed Lee

Partner Donald Tamaki paid tribute to the late Ed Lee, Mayor of San Francisco, at the Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus annual dinner on April 27, 2018.

Dear Anita, Tania, Brianna, Friends: Much has been said about Ed as a loving husband, and father, and as one of the City’s great and historically significant Mayors.

But I don’t think that even the staff of the Asian Law Caucus knows that for 13 years while Ed worked there, he played a crucial role in developing the organizing strategies that the Caucus has used for the past 40 years.

Even in law school Ed understood the limits of the legal system in effectuating change in Chinatown which had one of highest concentrations of poverty in the City, the highest population density, the highest rates of TB–where sweatshop and restaurant workers were paid far less than minimum wage.

You know–a legal challenge has a beginning and an end–and when the case is over, you hope that your client is in a better place–but that’s usually the end of it. Moreover, most of the root problems of the poor and powerless–are not redressable in court—they are instead the result of political, social, and economic inequities. The fact that City Hall used to ignore Chinatown was not a “legal” problem.

Ed knew how much more effective the Caucus would be if it combined its legal advocacy with community organizing such that when the legal case is over,  there is a tenants’ union, a labor union, community institutions in place that will continue fighting to level the playing field, not only in the courts, but in every other arena that matters–transforming the struggle for justice from a singular legal complaint to a social movement that ultimately changes hearts and minds and shifts the balance of power and policy.

Ed pioneered combining aggressive legal advocacy with community organizing, an approach that continues to this day at the ALC. So while we laud this man’s tremendous accomplishments, let it be remembered that the legacy that Ed left behind with the Caucus and with this City is more about the future than it is the past.

By shining a light and reflecting upon Ed’s unflagging commitment to serve, it also lights the way forward—not only for the Asian Law Caucus—but for anyone who loves justice.

Lisa P. Mak Joins Board of The Bar Association of San Francisco

Lisa P. Mak Joins Board of The Bar Association of San Francisco

Minami Tamaki attorney Lisa P. Mak recently started a two-year term on the board of directors of The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF).

The BASF board has two seats designated for representatives of the Minority Bar Coalition. Lisa was selected by the Coalition for one of the seats. She served as co-chair of the Coalition in 2017 and continues to serve on its board.

The Minority Bar Coalition (MBC) is a network of over 40 diverse bar associations dedicated to working in a unified manner to advance the cause of diversity in the legal profession. MBC does this by sharing best practices and resources in bar association programming and advocacy, finding issues of common cause, and building shared platforms.

“I hope to contribute to BASF’s commitment to engage our members with service opportunities, educational programs, and community advocacy,” said Lisa. “I want the legal community to know about the meaningful work this organization has been doing, especially in the current political climate. I’m also excited to continue working with both BASF and the MBC to drive our shared goals of increasing diversity in the legal profession.”

Lisa’s new BASF role is an extension of her ongoing leadership in the community and in the legal profession. She serves on the boards of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, and is Co-Chair of the Diversity Outreach Committee of the California Employment Lawyers Association.

Lisa is part of our Consumer and Employee Rights Group and passionate about protecting the rights of consumers and employees as individuals and in class actions. Her practice includes employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, defamation, contract claims, and labor code violations. She is experienced in litigation, from pre-litigation negotiations to trials and appeals. Lisa also advises employees on employment contracts and severance agreements.

PHOTO: Minami Tamaki attorney Lisa P. Mak (left) with other members of the BASF board.