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My First Court Visit: A Day in the Courtroom of Judge Holly J. Fujie

At 8:30 a.m. on a Monday morning, I entered the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Downtown Los Angeles for my first court visit. After passing through the metal screen detectors and making my way up to Department 87, I opened the courtroom doors plated “Judge Holly J. Fujie” and nervously checked in with the bailiff and the court clerk. Unlike many others who entered her courtroom, I arrived without counsel or a stack of paperwork to plead my case. I sat nervously, awaiting my turn to address the judge. Though the idea of standing before a judge was daunting, my first court experience was a truly enjoyable one, thanks to the honorable Judge Holly J. Fujie of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Fortunately, I did not report to court that morning as a litigant embroiled in a lawsuit or a defendant contesting a traffic violation. Instead, as an intern for the Japanese American Bar Association (JABA) as well as the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), I was graciously extended the opportunity to shadow Judge Fujie and experience the work of a prominent Japanese American judge firsthand.

After I had timidly entered her chambers and introduced myself to the judge, her clerk, Mr. Garcia, proceeded to list off the cases for the day. In addition to the fact that the judge and the clerk were utilizing legal jargon that went right over my head, I was taken aback by the sheer volume of cases on her calendar. Not only did she have 20 cases scheduled over the course of just one day, but she was also surrounded by towering piles of paperwork she had read in preparation for all 20 hearings. During this moment of awe and disbelief, she turned to me, pointed at a stack of papers (that may have been the biggest of them all), and said with a playful sigh, “Now those are the papers I have to read for tomorrow’s cases!”

It was in that moment that I realized that, though the attorneys, litigants, and I had reported to her courtroom at 8:30 a.m., Judge Fujie’s work for the day had started long before the first case was heard.

In just that one day I sat in her courtroom, I was able to observe a wide range of family law cases involving child custody, divorce, spousal support, and more. As each case was unique, with its own set of circumstances, I was left completely engrossed in the arguments presented in every case. In fact, there was even a child custody case involving a respondent who had cut off two of his fingers!

Though the variety of cases provided an eventful and captivating experience for me, it also showcased Judge Fujie’s incredible and almost supernatural ability to organize all the different facts and players of every case. Moreover, when attorneys got into a heated argument with one another, she commanded authority over her courtroom and sternly maintained order.

But besides her extraordinary skills as a judge, I was lucky enough to see the tremendously personable side of Judge Fujie. Outside the stuffy walls of the courthouse, we discussed light-hearted topics such as her children and our common interest in Disneyland. As fellow Japanese Americans, we shared in our regret of not studying Japanese when we were young. And during our discussion about sushi, she inserted Japanese words here and there (such as omakase and maguro) in a manner just like many other Japanese Americans.

For an aspiring law student like myself, my visit to the courthouse provided an opportunity to directly observe the judicial process in practice for the first time. But what made this day perhaps even more meaningful was seeing a fellow Japanese American don the weight of the esteemed black judicial robes.

It is not every day that I can witness someone of Japanese American heritage hold such a large role in society. It was truly an inspiration to see how she has been entrusted with the huge responsibility of determining the fate of real families every single day.

As the last case of the day came to a close at 4:30 in the afternoon, I walked out the doors of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse inspired and energized by a renewed sense of determination to one day forge my own path in the legal profession.

Judge Fujie and Sakura Kato at the JABA Genki Hour on June 25, 2014.

 

* I would like to thank my JABA supervisor Alex H. Fukui for arranging this visit and of course Judge Fujie for taking the time out of her busy day to host me in her court.

 

© 2014 Sakura Kato

california court Holly Fujie intern JABA judge judge Holly J. Fujie law Los Angeles nci