The JABA Legacy Project: Pioneering Jurists in the Nikkei Community

The Japanese American Bar Association (JABA) Legacy Project aims to create profiles of prominent jurists in the Japanese American community in the form of written articles and oral histories. In particular, these profiles pay special attention to these pioneering jurists' reflections on JABA, their distinguished careers, and their involvement with the Japanese American community.

Japanese American Bar Association website >>

Read articles from the other JABA Legacy Project series:
“Legal Legends in the Nikkei Community” by Sean Hamamoto
“Two Generations of Pioneering Judges in the Nikkei Community” by Sakura Kato

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Judge Jon Mayeda: The Right Place at the Right Time

Judge Jon Mayeda—a retired Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who currently works with JAMS, an Irvine-based dispute resolution and arbitration company—was always in the right places at the right times…or so he claims when he says, “It felt like the right thing to do.” But luck and serendipity can only go so far before passion and vision come into play.

As a pioneering jurist in the Japanese American community, Mayeda was instrumental in the founding of several organizations, including what is now the Asian Pacific Islander Law Students Association (APILSA) at the University of California, Los ...

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Judge Vincent Okamoto: Fighting for Justice - Part 2

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Law School 

It was in Vietnam that Okamoto first started thinking about the rule of law, and the lack thereof around him at the time. 

“I really did say to myself—and it sounds kind of corny—that if I am fortunate enough to live through this experience, then when I get back to the world—to America—I’d like to go through something that has rules, where people don’t throw grenades at each other and shoot at each other,” Okamoto said. “So I gave [law school] a shot.”

For Okamoto, law school proved to ...

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Judge Vincent Okamoto: Fighting for Justice - Part 1

“I was in a position in Vietnam—to be in an arena where men with guns made the rules. And there really wasn’t anything called the rule of law. Those on the battlefield prevailed not because of better argument or because the facts were on their side. They prevailed because they had superior firepower.”

So says Judge Vincent Okamoto who sits on the Los Angeles County Superior Court bench as he begins to explain just how the most highly-decorated Japanese American Vietnam War veteran ended up a Superior Court judge.

In Okamoto’s chambers at the Inglewood Courthouse, fourteen ...

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Judge Ernest Hiroshige: Forging Community

Anyone who has ever met Judge Ernest Hiroshige, who sits on the Los Angeles County Superior Court bench, knows about his signature bow tie. There’s no huge story behind it—“I just like bow ties,” he said.

The influence of his bow tie reaches far beyond the walls of Department 54 at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse. In fact, the 32-year-old veteran of the bench tells a story about Clyde Kusatsu, a friend and actor who wore a bow tie—in honor of Hiroshige—to an audition for the role of a judge on the legal drama L.A. Law ...

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Justice Kathryn Doi Todd: Redefining Possibilities

“Are you related to Mia Doi Todd?”

So asks Akira Boch, one of the Japanese American National Museum’s videographers, as he and Jenni Nakamura set up the media equipment for the interview in the chambers of the Honorable Kathryn Doi Todd, Justice of the 2nd District Court of Appeal. The answer is yes, and Justice Todd lets us quickly ooh and aah over the pictures of her daughter, Mia—a prominent singer-songwriter—with her newborn child.

Justice Todd is certainly used to her daughter’s celebrity. To be sure, though, this recognition goes both ways.

“Someone was in law ...

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