L o s Ange l e s S u p erior Court Jud i c ia l M a g az i ne
Le t t e r F r o m T h e E d i t o r s
professed goal of public black neighborhood where her life in Remembering Bataan Day:
policy in this state is ever parents have opened and manage Araw Ng Kagitingan.
greater inclusion of and a grocery store? Judge Tammy A common theme of these
participation by “o t h e rs” historically Chung Ryu shares her perceptions articles is the keen appreciation
excluded from public life. Diversity in Justice In A Country Without of our open system of justice
is the label generally attached to a Majority. expressed by judges whose diverse
this desirable goal. Judge Donna Groman coura- backg rounds have sensitized them
For the Los Angeles Superior geously recounts her formative to the stigma of otherness that
Court, diversity is not just a buzz- experiences as a lesbian growing can result in denial of access to
word. Even a random sampling of up in a homophobic world. Her the court.
our roster of bench officers shows article, Tikkun Olam, sheds light Diversity on our bench assures
participation by members of many on how her experiences influence to an even greater measure that
races, ethnicities, national origins, her approach to judging. litigants and jurors who appear in
and sexual orientations. How has a Vietnamese refugee, our courtrooms will recognize not
If not just a buzzword, what fleeing from the fall of Saigon as only familiar-sounding surnames
is d i ve rsity all about? The best a child, been affected by the and kindred skin tones, but also
answer is found in the articles experience? Insight on this question sympathetic cultural sensitivities.
submitted by judges whose awaits your reading of Judge And that is what diversity on
formative life experiences were Jacqueline Nguyen’s article, A the bench is all about. ■
shaped by their diversity, by their Flight From Saigon To America.
journeys, and, more importantly, Several other judges generously
by the journeys of their immigrant open their histories for our edifi-
parents, from “otherness” into cation. Judge Rolf Treu, whose
mainstream American life. family immigrated to this country
Although he was born after while he was a child, narrates
the fo rced internment of Japanese his family’s persecution, as ethnic
Americans during the Second Germans, in Latvia by the Bolshe-
World War, the sting of such a viks in Freedom From Tyranny.
legacy of injustice resonates in The invasion of Cyprus, his
Judge Fred Fujioka’s account family’s home, in 1974 is the forma-
of his family’s history in the tive experience that drove Judge
p o i g n a ntly titled, It Might Be Zaven Sinanian, as a child, with
B et ter For Us Later. his family to this Country as war
How does a barrio boy remem- refugees in One Sunny July
ber his childhood growing up in Morning.
East LA? Turn to Judge Richard Judge Ralph Ongkeko, who
Rico’s story, The Neighborhood. was born in the Phillipines, recounts
What does a Korean immigrant the experience of an immigrant
feel as a child growing up in a child’s encounter with American
William A. MacLaughlin
Editor in Chief
Victor E. Chávez
John Shepard Wiley Jr.
Staff Editor Juez SPANISH
Susan Matherly Pyccknn RUSSIAN
HO NGOC D U C
Ken Stebbing Hatulan TAGALOG
INDIA ( HINDI )
(213) 621-7642 fax
the Los Angeles
Superior Court Tadavor ARMENIAN
111 North Hill Street
2 Gavel to Gavel
Di • ver • si • ty
(di vur’se te) n., pl., -ties Presiding Judge’s Message 3
a. The fact or quality of
by Judge William A. MacLaughlin
being diverse; difference
b. A point or respect in
which things differ. “It Might Be Better For Us Later ” 4
THE AMERICAN HERITAGE ® DICTIONARY OF
by Judge Fred J. Fujioka
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE , FOURTH EDITION
The Neighborhood 6
by Judge Richard E. Rico
THE COVER DEPICTS THE MANY IMAGES
FROM OUR JUDICIAL AUTHORS’ LIVES . THEY Justice In A Country Without A Majority 8
ARE PIECED INTO A GRAPHIC ANALOGY OF by Judge Tammy Chung Ryu
THE AMERICAN FLAG TO REPRESENT THE
DIVERSE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ALL
AMERICANS CONTRIBUTE TO OUR COUNTRY. One Sunny July Morning 10
by Judge Zaven V. Sinanian
from upper left corner down in the red stripe:
JUDGE DONNA GROMAN AND HER PARTNER
BACKPACKING , JUDGE ZAVEN SINANIAN ’S Freedom From Tyranny 12
GRANDPARENTS’ WEDDING PORTRAIT FROM
THE EARLY 1900 S , JUDGE JACQUELINE
by Judge Rolf M. Treu
NGUYEN ’S GRANDMOTHER IN TRADITIONAL
VIETNAMESE DRESS , JUDGE FRED FUJIOKA’S Tikkun Olam 14
FAMILY IN FRONT OF THEIR HOME IN EAST
LOS ANGELES . JUDGE KELVIN FILER SMILES by Judge Donna Groman
IN AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PHOTO, JUDGE
SANJAY KUMAR FLANKED BY HIS PARENTS ,
JUDGE RALPH ONGKEKO ON THE BENCH AND
A Flight From Saigon To America 16
JUDGE SINANIAN AT THE ARMENIAN GENO - by Judge Jacqueline Nguyen
CIDE MEMORIAL IN YEREVAN , ARMENIA .
in the white stripe from the top down: Remembering Bataan Day 18
JUDGE SINANIAN , JUDGE GROMAN IN HER by Judge Rafael Ongkeko
NAVAL UNIFORM , THE DETENTION CAMP AT
HEART MOUNTAIN IN WYOMING WHERE
JUDGE FUJIOKA’S FAMILY WAS HELD, JUDGE Born In Amerrikka 20
ROLF TREU ’S GRANDPARENTS , THE 1992 LOS by Judge Soussan Bruguera
ANGELES RIOTS THAT INFLUENCED JUDGE
TAMMY CHUNG RYU ’S CAREER PATHWAY,
JUDGE NGUYEN AND HER FAMILY WAITING AT The Compton Kid 22
THE AIRPORT IN SAIGON AND A SCENE FROM
THE BATAAN DEATH MARCH THAT TOUCHED
by Judge Kelvin D. Filer
JUDGE ONGKEKO’S FAMILY DURING WORLD
WAR II . Diversity 24
At the upper right corner: by Judge James Kaddo
JUDGE JAMES KADDO WITH A PICTURE OF
HIS GRANDCHILDREN .
Seeking Gold Mountain 26
by Justice Elwood Lui, Retired
Family Reflections 28
by Judge Sanjay Kumar
Of Note 30
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 1
Letter From The Presiding Judge
by Judge William A. MacLaughlin
his issue of Gavel to Gavel racial, ethnic or gender back-
T is historic. It represents
what may be the first occa-
sion on which the views on
diversity of a broad cross section
of our judges have been assem-
ground. They are a remarkable
collection of tales, just as the
group of authors is a remarkable
collection of people.
Ironically, the planning and
bled and published in one place. preparation of this issue began
The authors were chosen some months ago, considerably
because they represent breadth of before the current public debate
diversity of race, ethnicity, gender about the present and future
and sexual orientation on our Court. status of immigrants in our society.
It was not anticipated that such It was and is not intended to state
a high proportion of these judges or espouse a position on any of
would themselves be from foreign- the issues in that debate. Rather,
born immigrant backgrounds. Eight it was simply intended to demon-
of the 14 authors are in this cate- strate the diversity of the back-
gory, representing origins in grounds and experiences of our
Vietnam, South Korea, China, judicial officers who, from what-
Cyprus, Germany, the Philippines, ever background, represent the
Lebanon and Iran. changing face of our community
Three of these judges were and its institutions. In any event,
caught up in wars in their native these are stories of our colleagues
countries when they were chil- with interesting, and in some
dren. Two of them represent the cases, gripping, personal experi-
first generations born in their ences which underscore in very
countries of origin in the decade human terms the rapid evolution
after World War II — fresh enough of Los Angeles County. ■
that the conflict had directly
touched their parents.
One author’s family was interned
in a detention camp for Japanese-
Americans during that war.
The articles reflect strikingly
different life experiences but they
also embody some common
themes on issues such as becoming
one of the first judges ever to serve
on the Court from a particular
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 3
the corner of First and Indiana. I think Grandpa had
to put the house title in the names of his children.
They were born here. They were citizens, and they
could own land.
The F.B.I. picked up my grandfather two hours
after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They
took him away for six months. The family had no
idea where he was, whether he was dead or alive. It
“ It Might turns out he was in solitary confinement in a cell in
Leavenworth the whole time.
I get my hair from Grandpa Fred. Before Leaven-
Be Better worth his hair was jet black, like mine mostly still is.
Six months later, after Leavenworth, my grandfa-
ther’s hair had turned all white.
Grandpa never spoke of this experience to anyone.
For Us Pearl Harbor happened on Dec. 7, 1941. On April
1, 1942, my dad did something he never really
explained to me. He enlisted in the U.S. Army. It
Later” would be another two months before he got any
news about his father, so in some ways Dad’s deci-
sion to enlist still puzzles me.
All he ever told me was, “It was April Fool’s
Day.” But President Franklin D. Roosevelt had
by Judge Fred J. Fujioka signed Executive Order No. 9066 in February, 1942,
which would eventually lead to the internment of
110,000 Japanese-Americans. On April 1, 1942, the
am named after my grandfather. He was “Jiro”
government started rounding people up for the
in Japan, but he made it “Fred” after the long camps. Dad enlisted that same day. He was impul-
trip to Los Angeles a century ago. That makes sive. Perhaps he himself did not fully understand his
me a third generation Angeleno. The law has motivation at the time.
affected my family here, but not in the way you While Dad was in the Army, the rest of the family
might expect for a judge. got relocated. First they were taken to the Santa
Grandpa got to L.A. just before the so-called Anita racetrack. The place had been pressed into
“Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907” stopped duty on short notice; there was still horse dung and
immigration from Japan. President Theodore straw all around. Then the family was shipped to
Roosevelt sealed that deal, which created a wall Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in northern
from the hostility that my grandfather’s generation Wyoming. Their bank accounts were confiscated
faced in America. The law also barred that first
generation from Japan — the issei — from owning
land. You had to be a citizen to buy land then, and
the issei were prohibited from becoming citizens.
Grandpa was educated and urbane. He attended
Cal Tech, and he invented and marketed a coal oil
fuel engine in Japan. Grandpa also created the
second largest Oldsmobile dealership in California
by selling cars and trucks to Japanese farmers in
There’s an old picture of Grandpa standing in
front of a house he bought in Los Angeles. My dad,
William Fujioka, is in that picture too, along with
his mother, his three brothers, and his sister. The THE FUJIOKAS IN FRONT OF THEIR EAST LOS ANGELES HOME ,
house is about three miles east of downtown, near CIRCA LATE 1920’ S
4 Gavel to Gavel
and their personal property was taken. Heart Americans
Mountain was a big change from L.A. The winters to die in that war.
get down to 30 below zero. The paradoxes are all over the place. Here was
My family never told me much about this time. Dad, born and raised in Los Angeles, but officially
They were ashamed of having been sent to camp. classed as an enemy
All my family ever told me was that it was dusty alien by the United
and cold. I was born in 1951. States.
In the Army, Dad served with the storied 442nd He was fighting for
Regimental Combat Team. He was wounded twice his country while his
and awarded the Bronze Star. The 442nd was a country was taking
segregated Japanese-American unit of the U.S. his family’s property
Army. For its size and length of service, it is the and locking up his
most decorated U.S. unit in the history of the people in a barren DA D ( C
A N D H IS
United States. place. Yet Dad and his C O U S IN
There are all kinds of stories about the 442. One buddies outfought everybody in sight,
is about the Lost Battalion. Some 200 guys from going back for more, like they had some enormous
the Texas National Guard got surrounded by an thing to prove for all time.
SS Panzer unit, an elite German formation. The Why? Dad never said. He died
Germans were making things very bad for the lost in 1992, and he never talked about the war. His
Texas battalion. So the Army sent the 442 to try a generation was that way — this John Wayne thing.
rescue. The 442 got the Texans out, but at a cost. Some things I do understand. The 442 was full
of teenagers who knew each
C O U R T E S Y O F T H E B A N C R O F T L I B R A R Y, U N I V E R S I T Y O F C A L I F O R N I A , B E R K E L E Y
other from before, who had
grown up together. The Army
did not replace the fallen with
new soldiers, because the 442
was segregated. With casual-
ties, the unit just shrank.
Every wounded man knew his
pals would continue to face
the challenges, but with a
smaller force. The men
expected to go back to the
On April 1, 1942, same small community after
the government started the war, and knew any
rounding people up dishonor would travel with
for the camps. them. They faced some duties
hard to dodge.
There was another thing too.
Since my father’s death, I
Of the 1500 men in the 442, 650 were wounded and have talked to other vets of the 442. They are old
200 were killed. It is an arresting calculus, I’ve now, and when they gather together they reminisce
always thought, for a mission to rescue 200. about those days of glory. They knew all about the
An old picture shows my dad and his two cousins overt segregation and the hostile laws
after that Lost Battalion action. The three were in while they were fighting. But they
southern France, recovering from wounds from the said to each other, if we do well here,
fight. After that photo, one of my Dad’s cousins it might be better for us after the
volunteered to go back to the front again, even war.
though it was clear the war was winding down. In They were right. Now my brother
the last three weeks of World War II, that cousin is the chief financial officer for the
was killed in battle. He was among the last City of Los Angeles. And I am a
judge of the Superior Court. ■
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 5
by Judge Richard E. Rico
hen I initially set out to write an article Although, even then, the a neighborhood was
for Gavel to Gavel, I was somewhat at known as a gang area, growing up there in the 1960s
a loss. I was asked to write about my now seems more prosaic. The gangs were there
own background and heritage which, and I grew up in the middle of them, but somehow
when one thinks of one’s own history, they were only peripherally a part of my life.
seems rather mundane. ,
“Geraghty Loma” “White Fence”, “Maravilla”—
But after a long day on the bench listening to these were gang names with which I was familiar.
preliminary hearings in Division 32 at the Clara The gang members in the area were known to us
Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center down- as pachucos and my parents told us to avoid them.
town, I started thinking of my own experiences. Did I belong to a gang? My first thought was no,
I was born and raised in East Los Angeles — but then again, I was part of a group of kids in the
more specifically, that unincorporated part of neighborhood who, except for a few cousins, lived
the county known as City Terrace, only a few within two or three blocks of each other. We were
miles from downtown. In the midst of a big city, between 6 and 10. We hung out together, went to
it still feels as if I had grown up in a small town. the park, rode our bikes, and played games
In the midst of a big city, it still feels
as if I had grown up in a small town
6 Gavel to Gavel
baseball field for baseballs sufficient to sustain
our own sandlot games, the college was a great
source of entertainment.
Did I belong to a gang? Living near Cal State L. A. also had other
My first thought was no, benefits. While my sister and I were in elemen-
but then again... tary school, my mother was the “room mom.”
When I went off to high school, she continued
helping at school by becoming a teacher’s aide.
Eventually, she took classes at Cal State L. A.
and graduated, obtaining her teaching credential.
She taught first and second grade students at
my old school, City Terrace Elementary.
The neighborhood itself was varied. I was
only 4 when my parents, my younger sister and
I moved into our house on Miller Avenue.
There was a synagogue up the street. Our next
door neighbor, Mrs. Davis, I would later learn,
had survived the holocaust. She had even shown
my mother the tattooed number on her arm and
explained that her entire family had been killed
in concentration camps. I don’t think I compre-
hended what she must have gone through.
To us kids, she was just the old lady next
door who got angry when we went running
through her yard. On the other hand, she did let
us take all the apricots from her tree so long as
we picked some for her. Those apricots are still
THE FAMILY HOME ON MILLER AVENUE IN CITY TERRACE
the only apricots I have enjoyed eating.
Ironically, just down the street lived a couple of
Japanese-American families, and I would only
together. learn much later that members of those families
We had nicknames — aka “monikers.” Arturo spent time in internment camps in Northern
was “Turtle”, Alberto was “Beto.” I was called California during World War II.
“Profé”, short for professor (I wore glasses and Eventually, our group broke up. The differ-
was the acknowledged “smartest” guy in the ence in ages between 14 and 15 became greater
group). We spoke a unique language which that the difference in ages between 6 and 10 as
I later learned was called pocho — now called our circle of friends in high school became our
“Spanglish”, a combination of English and primary social group. My parents moved out of
Spanish with words not found in either language. the neighborhood shortly after I graduated from
Fortunately, we stayed out of trouble. From college but I had left years before. Everyone
the age of 5 to 14, this was my world and these in the neighborhood knew I had been accepted
were the kids with whom I grew up with. If we to Yale.
were a gang, it was more in the nature of the The last time I saw one of the guys from the
kids portrayed in the old television shows, such neighborhood was just before I left for college.
as the “Little Rascals” or “Our Gang.” What He became serious and gave me
mischief we got into never amounted to much. a hug. We’re proud of you, man.
We spent our summers playing baseball or Don’t forget us.”
basketball or riding our bikes in the neighbor- I never have. ■
hood. Cal State L. A. was a wonderful play-
ground. Whether playing basketball on nice
hardwood floors, riding our bikes through empty
parking lots or searching the ivy around the RICHARD E . RICO is a judge at the Clara
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 7
When I was in college, my parents bought a
supermarket in West Oakland, an area very similar
to South Central L.A. I worked at the market 20 to
30 hours a week and, because of the store hours,
our family rarely ate dinners together. I remember
that my father once got punched in the face by a
shoplifter who was trying to get away. There was
Justice In a lot of drug selling and dealing going on outside
the store and in the neighborhood, and once a
young drug seller ran from the police into our store
and got arrested in the produce department.
A Country Although I did not experience too much discrim-
ination while growing up, there are certain incidents
that stand out in my mind. There were the neigh-
Without borhood kids in Guam who circled my house one
day, shouting “Ching, chang, Chinese, go back to
where you came from”
I also remember a few of the customers at our
A Majority market telling us to “Go back to China” or “Go
back to where you came from.” Then, while I was
attending UCLA Law School, there were several
young kids at a bus stop who yelled at me, “Go
back to your country!”
by Judge Tammy Chung Ryu When I was an attorney, I did not suffer the
overt discrimination that some of my fellow Asian-
American women lawyers did, such as being
y parents decided to immigrate from South mistaken for the court reporter, interpreter or the
Korea to the United States for reasons very secretary. However, every time I went into a court-
similar to those of other Asians — better room, especially in the beginning of my career, I
education and opportunities for their chil- was acutely aware that I was the only female Asian
dren, better living conditions and greater American attorney in the courtroom.
political freedom. Sometimes, I was the only Asian-American
So, when I was 9, my family moved to Guam, attorney, period.
an island territory of the United States in the That made me feel very self-conscious, to say
Pacific Ocean. Because my father was the only the least, and I made sure that I was thoroughly
one who knew how to speak English, he gave us prepared for every hearing so that I wouldn’t
English lessons at home to prepare us for the first embarrass not only myself, but all other Asian-
day of school, teaching us how to answer simple American attorneys.
questions such as “What is your name?” and “How Realizing that there was not enough diversity in
old are you?” the legal profession, especially in the courtroom, I
What he did not teach us, however, was how to decided to apply to become a judge and submitted
ask to be excused to go to the bathroom. So, from my application in January of 2002. A big part of my
my first day of school, I learned to communicate decision also stemmed from the Los Angeles riots
through gestures and made-up words. of 1992, which left most local Korean-Americans
We lived somewhat of a typical immigrant life. feeling helpless and wanting to become more
My family owned several small businesses and all empowered. For me, it meant getting more Korean-
of us had to pitch in. When I was in high school, Americans on the bench. I was keenly aware that in
my parents ran a flower shop in the suburbs of the Southern California, which has the largest popula-
San Francisco Bay Area. Every day after school, I tion of Koreans outside of Korea, there was only
had to water hundreds of small potted plants and one Korean-American judge.
pick the thorns from roses. So, in August, 2002, I became the second
8 Gavel to Gavel
Korean-American judge in Southern California and my Korean name correctly.
the first female Korean-American judge in I am determined that no one feel slighted or
California. embarrassed in my courtroom because they have a
I did not fully understand the impact that a foreign or unusual-sounding name. I am also aware
female Asian-American judge would have until after that immigrants, especially those who can’t speak
I became a judge. There was that incident with a English well, are very hesitant to speak up and ask
prospective juror in Judge Rita Miller’s courtroom questions of a judge or lawyer. Because of this, I
at the Metropolitan Courthouse downtown during try to remember to ask them if they have any
the new judge orientation process when I came on questions of me or the attorneys.
the bench. The case involved domestic violence One thing that hasn’t changed much from my
and the prospective juror was a Filipina. days as an attorney is that I am still somewhat of a
During a sidebar conference, she started telling rarity in the courtroom. I know that every day, as
us about the history of abuse in her own family, the victims, witnesses, defendants, attorneys and the
members of the public enter my
courtroom, some are surprised that
A big part of my decision also they see someone like me on the
stemmed from the Los Angeles I can see the surprised look in
riots of 1992, which left most some people’s faces, especially
those who are Korean-American,
local Korean-Americans feeling which is then quickly replaced by
helpless and wanting to become a smile and an approving nod. And,
more empowered. because I am aware of my minority
status, I am very conscious of how
I appear to everyone who appears
Since I arrived at the Compton
courthouse, I am even more
conscious of my Korean-American
background. Knowing that there
have been tensions in the past
between the African-American and
Korean-American communities, I
PHOTO COURTESY LOSE IVEY
feel that it is important for me to
not only to be fair and courteous
but also to appear that way.
Recently, something happened
in my courtroom that made me
realize that we have made much
entire time looking at only me and speaking only to progress.
me, not to Judge Miller, and not to the attorneys. It I had a two-defendant preliminary hearing, and the
was as though she knew, or felt that she knew, that attorneys and I were waiting for a witness to arrive
I would understand her. It seemed that she identi- after the lunch recess. All of a sudden, I noticed
fied with me. Afterward, Judge Miller noted the that all of the attorneys, the public
same observation and commented that the incident defender, alternate public
demonstrated the need for diversity on the bench. defender,
As a judge with an immigrant background, there and the district attorney, were
are certain things I emphasize in my courtroom. Korean- Americans, and the judge
First, I make sure that everyone gets his/her name was also a
pronounced correctly. In my life, I have encountered Korean-American.
people who refused to make an effort to pronounce I thought to myself, “We’ve
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 9
by Judge Zaven V. Sinanian
t was a sunny July morning in 1974 on the Turkey was invading
Mediterranean island of Cyprus when I arrived Cyprus. The bombing
at the bookstore where I worked during my did not stop for days.
summer vacation. I was 13 and did not know The ground beneath
then that my life was about to change forever. us shook as if we were
I heard gunfire and explosions, followed by experiencing a severe
a frantic phone call from my mother. I jumped on earthquake. We had
my bike and rode home in fear, as fast as I could. nowhere to run. We
My father informed me that the elected feared we were going
government was being overthrown by troops to die.
loyal to the military junta that ruled Greece. Soon, about half of A N D PA
We did not know what the coup d’etat meant the island was occupied.
to us. We were afraid of how neighboring coun- With the Turkish military presence, my mother
tries would respond. We tried to proceed and father did not want to experience the deporta-
normally with our lives, but that was not possi- tion and extermination their parents had endured
ble. One night shortly thereafter, we heard in the Armenian Genocide in 1915. In
explosions. September, 1974, we left Cyprus for Chicago.
We came as refugees. I remember
vividly that autumn morning at
O’Hare International Airport. The
air was different and everything
seemed larger than life.
The new life in Chicago was very
difficult. My parents’ immediate
concern was to find work. My sister
and I had to adjust to a social environ-
ment that perceived us as outsiders.
At school, we were the new
kids with strange names. I spoke
some English, but with a British
accent. We did not play sports, and
had no friends. I was ridiculed and,
often, made the target of racial and
GRANDFATHER ( BOTTOM ROW, SECOND FROM THE LEFT ) AND FELLOW LAW SCHOOL
GRADUATES IN ISTANBUL , CIRCA 1914
10 Gavel to Gavel
I will never forget our first Fourth of July. starting a family but in 1991, the sudden collapse
The fireworks that evening made us jump out of of the Soviet Union led to the emergence of an
our beds, thinking it was gunfire. My sister and I independent Republic of Armenia after almost 70
went to school feeling sad most of the time. We years of Soviet occupation. Armenians throughout
did not overcome the trauma of war for years. the world dreamt of the day when the land of
Slowly, however, I gained the respect of class- their ancestors would be free.
mates and teachers. Joining the staff of the high I felt obligated to assist the fledgling democracy
school newspaper helped. I tried out for the by using my expertise in law and international
soccer team, and soon became one of its best affairs.
players. Those two events, along with the influ- With the support of former Gov. George
ence of my Hungarian born teacher and soccer Deukmejian, I arranged for a leave of absence to
coach, helped in my process of assimilation. travel to Armenia to assist in building democratic
After high school, I attended Northern Illinois institutions. My wife and I made the long journey
University and got a degree in political science. to Armenia at our own expense. We placed all of
When I was accepted into a masters program at our personal belongings in storage. We lived in a
American University in Washington, I saw an Soviet-era dormitory, with limited heat, electricity
advertisement for a position at the Library of and hot water.
Congress for a translator of Armenian, Turkish My work focused on facilitating Armenia’s entry
and Russian. I got the job and took the bus every into the United Nations. I also attended several
morning to Capitol Hill. diplomatic conferences. Despite the living condi-
A proud moment came in 1982, when Judge tions, it was truly fulfilling.
Julius Hoffman — of Chicago Seven fame — When we returned to Los Angeles, I rejoined
the Attorney General’s Office.
We became proud parents of
The ground beneath us shook as if we two wonderful children. On
June 5, 2002, as I was preparing
were experiencing a severe earthquake. to argue a case before the
We had nowhere to run. We feared California Supreme Court, the
we were going to die. call came from the governor’s
office about my appointment to
the bench. For my parents, who
administered the oath of citizenship to our had recently moved to Los Angeles, that day was
family. For every immigrant, this is a momentous the proudest of their lives.
occasion. My life has been an incredible adventure. My
After receiving my degree, I returned to experiences have shaped the way I view the
Chicago and Chicago-Kent College of Law. world. I learned early in my life that when disputes
I began to dream about life in California. are not resolved at the negotiating table, ordinary
There were many role models of Armenian people suffer.
descent in the legal profession and in govern- I am proud to be a Superior Court judge. I am
ment. I made my journey west. My parents were grateful to this country. Whenever I speak to
concerned that they would not see me again immigrant kids, I remind them that I came with
My early years in California were full of little, but with perseverance and hard work, they
challenges. I sorely missed my family. Beginning can achieve their dreams.
my legal career as a deputy attorney general, Even though I am now a judge,
however, enabled me to develop new friendships in the final analysis, I remain the
and gain confidence in my legal abilities. I was same person I was when I set foot
assigned to the criminal division and later trans- on this land, my new home. ■
ferred to the civil division.
In 1990, I met a South American woman. ZAVEN E . SINANIAN is a judge at the Burbank
Within a year, we were married. We talked about Courthouse.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 11
Century, Mao instituted policies fully aware that
the deaths of 10’s of millions of people would
Lui Tze Ming, Chief Justice of the Supreme
From Court of Yunan province, necessarily fled to
Taiwan with the Nationalists in 1949. His youngest
daughter, my future wife, Scarlet was born there.
Tyranny Scarlet and I met in Los Angeles in 1976, and
married the following year.
We personified the American Dream. We
worked hard, built a law practice and raised two
children, one of whom is in her last months of law
by Judge Rolf M. Treu school. The other graduated from UCLA and is
studying Chinese in Beijing.
So what does family history teach us? In my case,
n Riga, Latvia, one day in 1919, the executioners I consider the U.S. Constitution as the apotheosis
came at dawn. Pastors Paul and Carl, brothers of guarantees of freedom. The equality under law
and ministers of congregations in the area, knew of each person, required under this document and
they were in danger. After the Russian Revolu- by laws enacted in accordance therewith, is crucial
tion, Bolsheviks were coming into power in
Riga, then part of the former Russian Empire.
Community leaders were being rounded up by the Carl became one of the first
new regime. “ residents” of the gulag, and
The pastors, part of a family that had been in
Latvia for generations, did not follow the general died in short order of typhus
emigration of fellow ethnic Germans to Germany in the camp.
after the revolution. Their sense of duty dictated
to them that they remain and preach against the
changing social and (il)legal order. to a free society.
Both soon came to the attention of the Bolshe- Communism and Fascism share one overriding
viks. They were arrested; Paul was stood against a principle: The rule of law is superseded by the rule
wall and shot. Carl became one of the first “residents” of an individual or group. Having family members
of the gulag, and died in short order of typhus in as victims of both forms of tyranny impressed upon
the camp. me at an early age that the majesty and independ-
The pastors’ surname was Treu. They were my ence of the law must be preserved at all costs.
great uncle and grandfather. Consequently, my courtroom has a formal
My father, Raimund, 15 at the time, was detained opening every morning. Thus, my belief that
and subjected to questioning overnight. He obvi- submitting sitting judges to judicial elections, in
ously was terrified and unsure whether he would any form, is inimical to judicial independence.
see another dawn. He was eventually released, but Diversity in my mind is essential for America
was scarred for life. to be the great country she is. We are a nation
Fast forward to Stalingrad, 1943. Raimund’s founded by those escaping persecution. While we
brother, my uncle Ditmar, was serving in Field have done some persecution ourselves, we recognize
Marshal Friedrich von Paulus’ sixth Army as an it, battle it, and constantly strive for
interpreter. He was captured by the Russians, put improvement.
in a POW camp and died of starvation. I lost other Generations of immigrants have
family members to Hitler’s megalomania. been lured by the assurance of
I was born in Germany in 1948. In 1949, on the opportunity and freedom. Diversity
other side of the world, Mao Tse Tung declared has made us great, and will continue
the formation of the People’s Republic of China. to be a boon to our future. ■
One of the three notable tyrants of the 20th
ROLF M . TREU is a judge at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse.
12 Gavel to Gavel
FROM THE TREU FAMILY ALBUM (CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER LEFT ): GRANDFATHER CARL DITMAR TREU, GRANDMOTHER GERTRUD THEOPILE TREU,
UNCLE PAUL FROMHOLD TREU AND GREAT GRANDFATHER DITMAR FROMHOLD TREU.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 13
never envisioned that I would become a Superior
Court judge because I thought my openness about
my sexual orientation would preclude such a lofty
goal. This was confirmed by the fact that there were
no lesbian judges that I knew of in the late 1970s.
I started my own practice right out of law school.
I built my reputation in juvenile law, was hired as a
Tikkun Superior Court referee in the juvenile court, and
then became a Superior Court commissioner. After
seven years on the bench, I was elected a Superior
Olam Court judge in 2004.
The fact that I was an “out”
by Judge Donna Groman lesbian apparently did not
interfere with my efforts
to be elected to an
y life experiences have profoundly influ- open judicial seat
enced who I am. I was born in Brooklyn,
N.Y., in 1955, the year Rosa Parks kindled
the civil rights movement. The fact that I was an “out” lesbian apparently
I was fortunate to grow up amidst great did not interfere with my efforts to be elected to
ethnic and racial diversity in the housing an open judicial seat — I received more than
project in which I lived and in the public schools I 1,200,000 votes.
attended. I became protective of my friends when My lifetime involvement in sports has proved
I saw them the object of unfair treat- a source of strength and is a major factor in my life.
ment. When racial tensions exploded In high school and college, I played on varsity
on my high school campus in 1970, basketball, volleyball, and softball teams. I refused
I joined in the efforts to improve
As a child growing up in the
1960s and 70s, I was strongly influ-
enced by the civil rights, feminist,
anti-war, and gay rights move-
ments. The Reverend Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr.’s insistence on
the dignified treatment of each
T R A IT
6 0’ S P O R human being, regardless of classi-
A N E A R LY
fication, moved me deeply. The era's fight
for human rights for all people inspired me to
become a lawyer representing those who were
unable to advocate for themselves.
In college, I encountered the lesbian community,
where I found friends/companions who admired me
for who I was. I was not asked to give up my love
of sports to be suitable for my partner. I could assert
myself in relationships without having to worry
about whether I was crossing some invisible gender
boundary. I was free to be me.
When I graduated from law school in 1979, I WITH MY PARTNER OF 15 YEARS , CECILIA ( RIGHT )
14 Gavel to Gavel
I enjoy the part of judging where
I can be a “coach” on the bench
to give up my love for sports when I was a girl even of Children and Family Services and I represented
though girls’ sports were frowned upon in that era. parents and children in the juvenile dependency
I thrived as an athlete despite the fact that female court. Presently, Cecilia is a treatment manager at a
sports programs and their athletes lacked funding, mental health clinic after having spent a number of
adequate playing fields, decent practice times and years in the catering business.
attention from the schools for which we played. We are regular synagogue-goers and strongly
Through sports I developed tenacity, leadership embrace the Jewish concept of “Tikkun Olam,”
skills, self-discipline, self-confidence, friendships which means “repair of the world.” My position as
with teammates of different backgrounds, and the a Superior Court judge fits well with this concept.
ability to work as part of a team. Among other aspects, I enjoy the part of judging
My love of sports continues through this day, where I can be a “coach” on the bench, encourag-
morphing from varsity college athlete to All- ing people to do their best and be their best,
American rugby player on the UCLA club team in regardless of the impediments they may face.
the 80’s, to triathloning in San Luis Obispo, ocean As a judge and as a person, I advocate openness,
kayaking on the Sea of Cortez, backpacking in honesty and courage as the means to achieve success
the Trinity Alps, scuba diving in Palau and biking in this society where prejudice and intolerance still
in the California AIDS Ride from San Francisco prevent us from being a nation of justice and
to Los Angeles. I still work out five days a week, equality for all. Unfamiliarity breeds
a routine I started shortly after moving to Los fear and hate. The best way to
Angeles in 1979. promote tolerance is to learn about
Now, 26 years out of law school and middle- each other and to work side by side
aged, I feel pretty mainstream. My partner, Cecilia, in advancing our common goals. ■
and I have been together for 13 years, and raised
my nephew for seven of those years. I met Cecilia DONNA GROMAN is a judge at the Airport
while she was a social worker for the Department Courthouse.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 15
A Flight From Saigon
by Judge Jacqueline Nguyen
was born in Dalat, a famous resort town north- the city were blocked and mined with explosives.
I east of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), the
capital of the former Republic of South
Vietnam. My father was a major in the South
In the mid-1970s, he did not directly command
troops, but was instead assigned to work with his
American counterparts on special intelligence
Commercial flights were virtually grounded.
The streets were in chaos, with civilians fleeing
to neighboring cities further south. Although my
parents felt compelled not to abandon their posts,
they were so afraid that my siblings (ages 4 to 10)
and I would be killed by the bombings or cross-
fire that they made the wrenching decision to send
matters. My mother worked in accounting at us alone to Saigon, accompanied only by a friend
City Hall. who had family there.
We lived comfortably, with On the day we left, my mother dressed us each
a housekeeper, a cook and a in three layers of clothes since we could not take
driver. Despite the ongoing any personal possessions. My father’s driver took
civil war, it was an idyllic life, us to the military airport and tossed us, one by
surrounded by a huge extended one, over a side fence to avoid the crush of people
family. inside fighting for space on the evacuation plane.
All that ended in April 1975, My father’s colleague caught us on the other
when I was 9. South Vietnam side of the fence and ran us to the plane readying
fell to Communist forces. The for takeoff. It was suffocating inside, and people
cities adjacent to Dalat fell were piled on top of one another on the floorboard.
D M OT
HER rapidly, and the roads out of My younger sister, then 8, still remembers how
16 Gavel to Gavel
painfully her legs were crushed during the the heavily guarded airport, only military planes
entire journey. were allowed to depart, and the U.S. military was
For days in Saigon, we lived with the horrible evacuating its own personnel and U.S. civilians.
fear that my parents would be trapped in Dalat and Despite the certain prospect of execution if my
never come for us. Eventually my mother made her father were captured, his American contacts could
way to Saigon, but my father had a harder time. not give our whole family passage out of Vietnam.
After the order to abandon Dalat, my father retreated They offered to take him out alone, leaving us all
to Nha Trang, a nearby coastal city.
By the time he got there, pockets of
resistance dangerously blocked the We rushed the runway one night
main road between Nha Trang and and were airlifted out of Saigon
Boat departures were also difficult
on a C-130 transport plane.
because of intense gunfights near the
behind. My father declined.
Then, through sheer miraculous luck, my
parents connected with a friend who is married
to an American civilian. This American civilian
eventually saved my family by declaring us to be a
part of his family, which got us inside the secured
airport. We rushed the runway one night and were
airlifted out of Saigon on a C-130 transport plane.
Unlike so many families who were separated during
the chaos, our family was intact, but we left every-
thing else behind.
We stayed first in an Army base in the Philip-
pines, then Guam. Eventually, we were taken to
Camp Pendleton in San Diego County. We lived
there in a refugee camp for over a month, sharing a
tent with two other families. Thus my parents,
with $5 in their pockets and six young children,
began a new life in America.
Having lived the American dream, progressing
from menial laborers to small business owners,
my parents believed that anything is possible in
America. Yet, even they could not predict that
one day, I would be appointed to be the first
Vietnamese-American woman judge in the State
FROM RIGHT: FAMILY FRIEND MR . EDWARD BRADY, MY PARENTS ,
HOA PHAM NGUYEN AND BINH NGUYEN , MRS . BRADY, MY BROTHER
CHIEU AND ME AT ABOUT FOUR YEARS OLD. PHOTO TAKEN AT To be honest, I was terrified of the tremendous
TAN SON NHAT AIRPORT IN SAIGON . responsibility of being a role model for so many.
But throughout my career in private practice and
beach. Fortunately, my father was with a colleague at the U.S. Attorney’s Office before taking the
who was related to a fisherman there. In the bench, I was lucky to meet many awe-inspiring,
middle of the night, the fisherman snuck them out groundbreaking women to whom
of Nha Trang hidden on his boat. I looked for guidance, and I feel
By the time my father found us in Saigon the very privileged to play the same
city was under siege. Especially after South role, no matter how small, for
Vietnam’s president resigned, everyone was in others now. ■
panic, desperately trying to leave the country or
store up supplies for the difficult days ahead. At JACQUELINE NGUYEN is a judge at the
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 17
by Judge Rafael Ongkeko
y birthday, which sneaks up too quickly Growing up as officer’s kids, we would some-
nowadays, happens to be a national holiday times ride in American surplus canvas-covered
in the Philippines. Willys Jeeps with those little windshield wipers
A solemn occasion, it is Bataan Day, that were pitifully inadequate in a tropical storm.
Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor), We felt quite safe in Manila, and it was. Life was
commemorating the surrender in April, stable, but it would soon change when we left to
1942, of 75,000 soldiers (Filipinos outnumbered seek a new life in the United States.
their American comrades five-to-one) to the With two younger sisters, ours was a small family
Japanese army after months of fierce fighting. by Filipino standards back in 1965, when we came
My grandfather and namesake, Rafael Ongkeko, to the U.S. With our heads firmly on our shoulders,
who sired more than a dozen offspring, admonished we had little need for the stuff we left behind,
his eldest child and army conscript, 21-year old making it easier to pack my mother and the three
Martin Ongkeko, of us on a KLM
“Don’t be a Royal Dutch
deserter.” A Airlines plane
legendary family His early career saw him fight bound for Los
hero now, Martin fellow Filipinos, Huks, who made Angeles that
survived the summer.
fighting and the the mistake of calling themselves My father
infamous Bataan Communists in the early 1950s stayed behind for
Death March, a year, but cut his
later adjudged own career short
a war crime. just as a nascent dictator named Ferdinand Marcos
Sadly, Martin never did return to his southern took power. Had he stayed, my father would have
Luzon town, succumbing in a Tarlac prison camp. seen his military contemporaries exercise virtually
My mother’s family, on the other hand, came from absolute power during martial law, accumulating
the northern end of Luzon, referred to locally as power and wealth far beyond their modest salaries.
Ilocano. Her family of four girls and one boy I would not return for another 10 years.
managed to survive a brutal occupation in the cooler “America,” and all the promise that magical
mountain air of Baguio City to the north, but no word connoted, just proved too alluring for my
one talks about it much. parents, both smart, tough people. A one-way ticket
My parents were to meet a decade later during to L.A. with no home or job?
my father’s years in the Philippine Military No problem — go to school; get a job, get three
Academy. His early career saw him fight fellow or four, as my mother did. Whatever you do, you’d
Filipinos, Huks, who made the mistake of calling still make more here than “back home.”
themselves Communists in the early 1950s; he also And besides, your English is really good!
went to Korea as part of a United Nations mult- Water in the Philippines was not always so
inational force. freely available, so I marveled at the open-mouthed
18 Gavel to Gavel
lion drinking fountain in Centinela
PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
Park. The “Jesus Saves” sign near
our apartment off Centinela
Avenue served as a reminder that
this country tolerates more than just
one or two religions. But what I
remember most about the first few
months were the kind hearts of
plain folks who helped us get
A scrawny kid of 12, I remem-
ber watching the smoke from the
Watts riots in August of 1965, the
day we moved from my uncle’s
Paramount home to Inglewood. My
uncle pointed out the rising smoke
and said, confidently, “I’ll get you
That was my first lesson in PRISONERS OF WAR REST DURING THE BATAAN MARCH .
surviving L.A.: master the surface
streets just in case. Four years later, yes, on Bataan here.
Day, I would leave the Montebello DMV with a I don’t have to look far beyond my courtroom in
driver’s license, freeing me from RTD Line 26, one formerly all-white Alhambra to see that Ellis Island
West (aka the Costco food line) is
alive and well in the numbers of
PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
immigrants from Asia, Latin
America, and Eastern Europe,
chowing down on basic American
like churros, pizzas, and a Polish
dog, plus drinks, for less than
In the middle of a recent trial
it struck me that the DA, the JA,
and Juror #10 were also Filipino-
Americans. Like many Americans
or future Americans born with
strange names in strange sounding
places, I and, now, my own
family, still have the same hopes
and dreams my parents had.
With thanks this time to those
VICTIMS OF BATAAN . with the power to have made it
possible, and plain old luck, I am
of three buses in a long commute to Loyola High. both proud and challenged to work
The immigrant experience is part of who I am. in a free society committed to the
Like my uncles Frank and Joe Sipin, farmworkers in rule of law and the ideal
the lettuce and cauliflower fields in Watsonville, of justice, wearing a robe in a room
and my Uncle Duard and Tita Doris, who worked that my uncle Martin never saw,
two jobs to keep their family going, I’ll always have but helped ensure decades earlier
a good sense of where I came from, and how I got with his sacrifice from thousands
of miles away. ■
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 19
Born In Amerrikka
by Judge Soussan Bruguera
y the time I was born in Tehran, Iran, in
There have been many times when I have
May of 1956, my parents had applied and warned counsel to let their clients know that I
waited for years for the privilege of entering understand Russian, Armenian and Farsi in case
the United States as permanent residents. they thought their conversations about me were
How does one describe to a person on private.
whom God has bestowed the precious gift Like the Coneheads on “Saturday Night Live,”
of being born in the United States the value of who responded “France” when asked where they
being allowed to come here? were from, throughout my childhood, I responded
Well, it’s like being allowed to come to a place “New Jersey.”
where you can raise your children in a two-bedroom Each time Iran was in the news, I feared and
apartment with the family’s sole income being desperately avoided any conversation about my
that of a mechanic and having your daughter grow background. I was attending Loyola Law School
up to receive the honor and privilege of sitting as when the hostages were taken in November, 1979.
a judge on the Los
Angeles Superior Court.
I was 8 when my
family was finally I have about a dozen old judges’ robes
given the gift of immi- I make the kids who visit my courtroom wear,
gration as permanent
residents and my parents so they can see themselves as judges
have not stopped
saying, “Gud Bless
One day recently,
a young attorney
remarked in my court-
room that it was the
first time she had
appeared in a case
where the judge and
all counsel were born
in Iran. Of course
after 17 years on the
bench, it was not my
first time, but I shared
her joy and gratitude
to this country.
JUDGE BRUGUERA ( LOWER RIGHT CORNER ) IS PICTURED ALONG WITH VISITING STUDENTS .
20 Gavel to Gavel
to the United States. It took them about 17 years
of applying and waiting, but with thanksgiving and
joy, my mother, father, younger brother and I were
granted the privilege of coming here in 1965.
Throughout my childhood, I met many people
who came from other countries, with wealth and
privilege. Many have come here from Iran having
been in the Shah’s government and having lived
rich lives before the overthrow.
Mine was not such a family. I believe we came
here with the minimum required by the U.S.
Government. My father worked very hard until
his retirement, and I grew up in an apartment on
JUDGE SOUS SAN BRUGUERA Hayworth Boulevard, near Fairfax in Los Angeles
where my parents slept in the living room so
A classmate told me to go back where I came from. that my brother and I could have our own rooms.
But it’s not such a big deal and people have lived Yet, my parents constantly reminded us how
through much worse. fortunate we were to live in the United States.
My mother’s father was the sole survivor of They reminded us not to waste the privilege of
his family in the Armenian Genocide. He was a life in “Amerrikka.”
teenager when he was sent to a nearby town to I have about a dozen old judges’ robes I make
trade goods. He came back to find his parents the kids who visit my courtroom wear, so they can
and all of his brothers and sisters dead. His home see themselves as judges, because I tell them that,
was burned, his extended family killed. It’s hard if it could happen to me, it certainly could happen
He also survived three
years in a Siberian prison.
When really pressed, my Like the Coneheads on “Saturday Night Live,”
mother tells the story of having
to leave Russia as a child on who responded “France” when asked where
a train in the night and having they were from, throughout my childhood
to remember the fake name I responded “New Jersey.”
on the documents her father
had purchased for his family to
enable them to flee to Iran.
My grandfather managed to get his young family to them.
out of Russia and to Iran, but he would not be able My daughters have been blessed with American
to join his family until he had spent years in custody citizenship by birth. In addition to my immigrant
in Siberia. Why? The Communists, my mother background, they also have through my husband,
says. And her next words, God Bless America. I Paul Bruguera, a grandfather born in Spain and
concur. a grandmother born in Finland. But as my mother
My grandfather eventually met his wife and says often, “Susie, don’t be big
raised three daughters in the part of Tehran domi- shot, listen to
nated by Russian and Armenian refugees. My father your mother and thank God every
met my mother in the bakery my grandfather had day that your children were born
opened and turned into a neighborhood meeting in ‘Amerrikka.’” ■
place. My father was living in Iran as the son of a
Russian military advisor to the Persian government.
My father tells us that, from the moment he met
my mother as a young woman, she spoke of moving
SOUSSAN BRUGUERA is a judge at the
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 21
The Compton Kid
by Judge Kelvin D. Filer
was born, raised and educated in Compton, While at UCSC, I was a member of the Black
California!” Student Alliance for four years and played on the
Whenever I am asked to speak at local career UCSC Basketball Club for three years. I subse-
days, graduations, or as a visitor to a local school, quently received my juris doctor from UC Berkeley
I always use this as my opening statement. I (Boalt Hall) in 1980.
emphasize that I am from Compton because, After passing the California Bar in 1980, I
historically, we tend to hear only negative things worked for two years as a deputy state public
about the city. defender. In this capacity, I researched and wrote
I use this introduction with pride, but humbly. appellate briefs and handled oral arguments for
For my message is not one of “look at me”— rather indigent defendants.
to tell the students and young people in Compton It was during this period that I argued
that if I made it, so can you! and won a landmark case before the
I am honored to serve as a California Supreme Court in 1980. The
Los Angeles Superior case was People v. Taylor (1982) 31 Cal.
Court judge and 3d 488 — a unanimous decision
absolutely love sitting holding that criminal defendants have
in the Compton Court- a right to wear civilian clothing—“the
house of the South Central garb of innocence” during their trials.
District. I am truly living In 1982, I fulfilled my lifelong dream
out my dream as I can recall by opening up my own private law
being in the third grade practice in my hometown of
when I decided to be a Compton, California, and main-
lawyer. I was introduced to EF T tained a general criminal/ civil prac-
the profession at that early E ON tice with an emphasis on criminal
IT H M
A IT W
age by my mother and father, F A M ILY defense work.
who were both very active in It was also about this time that I felt the need
the civil rights movement. to become more involved in community affairs. I
My father, Maxcy Filer, served as the president was elected in 1981 as a member of the board of
of the local NAACP. I would often sit in on their trustees for the Compton Unified School District
meetings about tactics, boycotts, demonstrations, and served for three terms.
etc. A constant reference was made in those meetings I became a life member of the NAACP and have
to “our lawyer” or “the attorney,” which piqued my been a member of the board of directors for the
curiosity as to “this person” to whom everyone was Compton Chamber of Commerce since 1984. I
showing respect. I decided that I wanted that admi- remain very active in the only I church I have
ration and authority and, with suggestive nudging known, First United Methodist Church in Compton.
from my dad, (who himself was in law school at the My career as a bench officer began as a
time) I set out to become a lawyer. Compton Municipal Court commissioner in 1993.
After graduating from Compton High School in Later, I served as a Superior Court commissioner
1973, I went to the University of California at Santa after unification of the courts in 2000.
Cruz. I majored in politics, receiving a bachelor of I feel fortunate to have remained assigned to
arts degree in 1977 while graduating with “college Compton and I presided as a commissioner over a
honors” (the top 30 students at Stevenson College). variety of assignments from traffic court, felony
22 Gavel to Gavel
preliminary hearings, felony arraignments, misde- immediately recognize the defendant’s name or
meanor trials, felony trials and limited civil litiga- face as someone that I grew up with. Invariably, I
tion. On Aug. 8, 2002, Governor Gray Davis encounter people who know me through family
appointed me as a judge of the Superior Cour members or from my service on the Compton
in Los Angeles. I, of course, asked that my School Board.
assignment remain in Compton. These situations usually result in my recusal
I love the proximity to the courthouse. I know from hearing that particular case. It is also interesting
and respect that judges cannot get involved in local when prospective jurors during voir dire will inform
politics. However, I do everything I can to remain us all that they have “known me since I was a little
informed about community events and to be active boy”— sometimes even calling me by my nickname
in a civic fashion. “Scooter.” This has actually happened.
I can walk over to Compton High School to I am currently assigned to a long cause felony
speak to students. I can walk over
to the Compton Chamber of
Commerce. I can walk next door
to City Hall or to the County
Public Library to conduct a nudging from my dad,
swearing-in ceremony for the (who himself was
local “Block Clubs.” Plus, I can
literally walk over to my parents’ in law school at the
house for lunch any day of the time) I set out to
week. become a lawyer.”
The camaraderie of the bench
officers, staff, employees, deputy
district attorneys, public defend-
ers, alternate public defenders,
sheriff’s department who work in
CONGRATULATIONS FROM MY FATHER , ATTORNEY MAXCY D . FILER
trial court. This is a very rewarding assignment and
gives me the opportunity to interact with the
community via the jury voir dire process and to
litigate interesting issues in important cases.
As you can tell, I truly love being a judge and
sitting in Compton. Still, I try to keep busy with
other aspects of my life. I have two beautiful
GRADUATION DAY FROM UC BERKELEY IN 1980
daughters — Brynne (a college student) and Kree
(a high school student).
the Compton Courthouse is truly amazing. I think I am a die-hard Lakers fan who enjoys music,
we all recognize and respect our various roles, yet movies and playing basketball. I regularly write
maintain a common commitment to get the work poetry and I also hold a patent for
done. Also, the bench officers get together infor- my invention —“Filers Flavored
mally once a week to exchange news, discuss new Filters”— which are specially
laws and/or procedures at our regular brown-bag flavored coffee filters that will
lunches. produce gourmet/ flavored coffee
Presiding in a court located in my hometown can from brewing regular ground coffee.
be a little interesting, e.g. when I call a case and Most importantly, I was born,
raised and educated in Compton! ■
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 23
Southern California School of Law. I then decided
that I might as well finish law school and, thus,
gave up a career in the foreign service.
I am very proud to be the representative of
the American-Lebanese community on the bench.
The American-Lebanese community is a vibrant
and multi-dimensional participant in the Southern
California societal, economic, and political life. As
with other immigrant communities, the Lebanese
came here for economic advantage and to forge a
Diversity better future and a better life for themselves and
The Mediterranean climate of Los Angeles,
being very similar to that of Lebanon, was an
added attraction. Hollywood also made Los
by Judge James Kaddo Angeles an attractive and magical destination to
The earliest immigration occurred at the begin-
udge Victor Chavez doesn’t call me that ning of the 20th century, and it consisted mainly of
often. When he does, it is usually about shopkeepers, grocers, and goods peddlers. The
tennis and about common friends associated second wave followed World War II when Southern
with the game at the park where we usually
This time it was different. He asked me
if I would write an article about “diversity” for
Gavel to Gavel. Without more guidance or speci-
ficity, I gladly agreed.
So I don’t bore you with personal details, this
article will be less biographical and more historical
and, hopefully, reflective. Let me introduce you to
my background and to the American-Lebanese
Community of Southern California.
I am an American of Lebanese origin. Not only
of Lebanese origin, but Lebanese by birth. As
far as historical records can detect, I am the first
American judge who was born in Lebanon—
a distinction of which I am very proud.
Becoming a lawyer and, eventually, a judge was
almost an accident in my life. After undergraduate
studies at University of California at Berkeley, I
was drafted into the U. S. Army and served for two
years. Upon completion of my Army service, I
intended to go into the State Department or the
Foreign Service, hopefully, to serve at an
American embassy in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, the background check, which
was mandatory —both in the United States and
Lebanon— took longer than expected and by the
time I received clearance, I had almost finished
one whole year of study at the University of
SHOWING - OFF PHOTOS OF HIS GRANDCHILDREN
24 Gavel to Gavel
lawyers, politicians, and
at least one judge.
As I look around, it
is gratifying to see that
my colleagues likewise
reflect the ethnic and
cultural fabric of our
rich Southern California
society. I don’t know
if this was by design or
accident, but we are
truly reflective and
representative of our
Since becoming a
judge, I have made a
California mushroomed as an economic and financial Casey Kasem, Jamie Farr,
center. More recently, the numbers of Lebanese
immigrants grew substantially, spurred by the tragic
Tony Shalhoub and so many
Lebanese Civil War. others are still distinguishing
Among the earliest families that settled in the themselves in the movie business.
Los Angeles area was the Baida family. One of
their progeny was Judge Hector Baida, who
presided in the Santa Monica Municipal Court. conscious effort to be accessible to members
Michael Ansara—though he was always cast as of my community and
an American Indian—was actually Lebanese. to participate with my family at church and other
The immortal Danny Thomas left Toledo, Ohio, community functions. I have gladly accepted
for the glamour of Tinseltown and became a giant requests to be a keynote speaker at graduation
in the entertainment business. functions, to host and emcee several community
Casey Kasem, Jamie Farr, Tony Shalhoub and functions and generally to mix and be available to
so many others are still distinguishing themselves address whatever community concerns may be on
in the movie business. their minds.
The biggest automobile dealerships in America, I have found that there is no greater pleasure
owned by the late Nick Shammas, were Felix than to be recognized and respected by your own
Chevrolet and Downtown L.A. Motors. people. If, because of my involvement in the
Naseeb Saliba, of Tutor-Saliba Construction, is community, I have helped to inspire young
among the giant public contractors in the State of students to want to become lawyers or to further
California. their educations, then I feel a great
There are so many others that were pioneers sense of accomplishment.
and are far too numerous to mention. The present My life, and that of the
American-Lebanese community in Los Angeles has members of my community, are
become multi-dimensional. Today, we are the attainment and realization
renowned doctors in every field of medicine, of the American Dream, a dream
professors, teachers, captains of industry, bankers, made possible because we were
given the opportunity to work, to
excel and to prosper. Thank you,
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 25
community. They had to establish their own busi-
ness to make a living. Father established a business
as a wholesale produce merchant in the City
Seeking Market District of Los Angeles near Ninth and
San Pedro Streets.
He worked long hours to provide the family
with a comfortable lifestyle. When he accumulated
Gold sufficient savings in the mid-1930’s, he moved the
family back to China. The family returned after
a few years because my parents found the living
Mountain conditions in America preferable.
It didn’t take them long to realize that they had
become so accustomed to hot and cold running
water, refrigeration and indoor plumbing. I was
born in Los Angeles just before World War II.
by Justice Elwood Lui, Retired During the war years, the family moved to a home
on Fourth Avenue, between Pico and Olympic.
We were “pioneers” moving farther west from the
y father came to America seeking a better Downtown area than most Chinese families had
life. In China there were stories of the ventured. I was happy growing up on this street
incredible wealth that existed in “Gold with its friendly neighbors.
Mountain,” the name that the Chinese One neighbor, Mary Waters, became a Los
gave America. Angeles Municipal Court judge and was the
Many Chinese immigrants dreamed of presiding judge when I served on that court. The
accumulating enough wealth so they could return to first Chinese-American lawyer admitted to practice
China and live comfortably for the rest of their lives. in the continental United States, Y.C. Hong, lived
On his first trip to America in the 1920s, my a few blocks away. Mr. Hong had represented my
father worked in the gold mines of Northern mother in her immigration proceedings.
California and then as a house boy for Baptist As a boy, my mother warned me that there were
missionaries in Los Angeles. He returned to China “limits” as to what I could do because I was Chinese.
after the death of his first wife and eventually had I was puzzled and did not understand fully why
an arranged marriage with my mother. being Chinese was a problem. I thought we were
My parents immigrated to Los Angeles in 1928 all equal! Her attitude was rooted in her own expe-
shortly after their wedding. In those days, Chinese riences of racial prejudice. She was merely trying
could not find real employment outside of their to teach me about the realities of life. Her words
actually inspired me to achieve,
take advantage of opportunities
and to reject any limits.
My siblings and I attended
Los Angeles High School. It was
an extraordinary school — racially
diverse — where students excelled
in academics and athletics. I met
others who became life-long
friends. United States District
Judge Dickran Tevrizian was in
my class and we later served
together on the Los Angeles
Municipal and Superior Courts.
Justice Kathryn Doi Todd was a
year behind our class.
MY FATHER IN THE CIT Y MARKET DISTRICT, CIRCA 1930
26 Gavel to Gavel
After graduating from UCLA, I became a CPA year, I was elevated to the Court of Appeal and
with the accounting firm that is now Deloitte and became the first Chinese-American appellate
Touche. At that time, the most sought after jobs judge in the history of the State.
were with the “Big Eight” accounting firms that In 1987, I retired from the Court of Appeal to
dominated the accounting profession. Even with join Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, a law firm with a
good grades and passing the CPA exam, non-white 100-year history and 600 lawyers. Jones Day has
students found it difficult to obtain employment since grown to include nearly 2,300 lawyers. I
with Big Eight firms. It took some aggressive became the firm’s first Asian partner and have had
lobbying efforts by my accounting professor, Andy the opportunity to represent major corporate and
Mosich, for me to receive a few offers. public entities. Today young Asian students are
I had a similar experience when I was graduating not only welcomed but aggressively recruited by
from UCLA Law School. I was the only Asian business and professional firms.
student in my class. While I did receive a few There are many more lawyers and judges who
offers are of Asian descent than there were when I
from smaller firms, the larger law firms were not started my legal career. My son, Brad, is a partner
interested. I decided to accept with Morrison & Foerster and lives and works in
an offer from the California Washington. My son, Chris, is
Attorney General’s Office an assistant United States
which paid its new attorney who practiced with
graduates while they studied O’Melveny & Meyers. My
for the Bar. After practicing wife, Crystal, serves
for five and a half years, I on the Commission on
was fortunate to be offered Judicial Performance.
an appointment to the Jones Day has given me
Los Angeles Municipal the opportunity to develop
Court by Gov. Jerry Brown. a significant practice and
I was 34 and given a rare honored me by asking me to
opportunity for someone of serve on the firm’s senior
my age. There were only a management committee and
handful of Asian lawyers in as the partner in charge of
the city and we all knew FA M ILY
the San Francisco office. My
each other. I was only the IT parents would be pleased by the
fourth Chinese-American to serve as a success of their children and
judge in this state. Delbert Wong was the first (and grandchildren and the rapid progress
also the first in the country, excluding Hawaii), of Chinese-Americans.
followed by two others in San Francisco, Sammy My parents have been gone a long time but I
Yee and Harry Low. still miss and honor them for all that they did for
Asian bar associations in California had not yet me, my family and others. I cannot fully compre-
been established. Albert Lum, a prominent hend how difficult it must have been for them to
Chinese-American lawyer, proposed the formation immigrate to America based on a hope and prayer
of a bar association that became the Southern of a better life.
California Chinese Lawyers Association. The They came with virtually nothing more than
number of association members was insufficient to the clothes on their backs and succeeded. That is
qualify for “affiliate” status by the Los Angeles what my parents and countless
County Bar Association and the Conference of other immigrant parents did for
Delegates to the State Bar. My judicial colleagues, themselves, their families and
Arthur Gilbert and Loren Miller, joined the associa- their future generations. We are all
tion which helped it to eventually achieve the size better off because of their courage
necessary for that status. and vision. ■
In 1980, Gov. Brown elevated me to the Superior
Court and I was sworn in by Judge Wong. The next ELWOOD LUI served on the Los Angeles
Municipal and Superior Courts and retired
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 27
by Judge Sanjay Kumar
hen I was first asked to write an article for nicated to me in subtle and not so subtle messages,
this magazine addressing my cultural and often caused me to reflect on my actions in order to
social history, I reflected not only on my do right. I attribute whatever motivation I have to
parent’s ethnicities and childhood experi- seek excellence to both my father’s and mother’s
ences, but also on their exposure to the drive for excellence which was, in part, fueled by
governmental structures of their countries. their cultural upbringing.
When I was growing up in Chicago, my parents’ While I see myself as “American” in every sense
pride in their English and Indian heritage, commu- of the word, I am proud of both my parents’
While I see myself as
“American” in every sense
of the word, I am proud
of both my parents’
28 Gavel to Gavel
national backgrounds, for I know they have served below, in very general terms, the Indian system
as the building blocks to my character and helped of justice was based on English common law.
make me the person I am today. There are several fundamental principles in
My parents had different childhood experi- the Indian Constitution that have their roots in
ences. My mother was raised on a dairy and English law. They include the parliamentary
poultry farm in West Yorkshire, England. She was form of government; the concept that there is
the fourth daughter of five children. Although her one citizenry; the importance of the rule of law;
family was not wealthy and was severely affected the institution of the speaker (i.e., the person
by the Depression, she rarely remembers being who presides over the lower house of Parliament)
“in need” of anything and often credits her and the process for passing binding legislation.
mother for teaching her how to stretch even the When interpreting issues of law, judges in India
smallest amount of money. My mother pursued a often rely on historical English common law in
nursing career and eventually accepted a position reaching their conclusions.
working 12-hour shifts at
Halifax General Hospital
while still contributing to
the farming operations. The similarities between English common law
My father’s path was
dominated by academic
and the Indian judicial system have apparently
drive. He was the eldest sparked a relatively recent pact between the
son of six children and United Kingdom and India.
was raised in northern
India. At a very early
age, my grandparents
and my father’s teachers recognized that he was The similarities between English common
intellectually gifted. In order to allow my father law and the Indian judicial system have appar-
to grow academically, my grandmother sold her ently sparked a relatively recent pact between
jewelry so the family could assist in funding the United Kingdom and India. In this regard,
medical school for him in England. He graduated an agreement has been met whereby lawyers
from medical school at age 22 and began an practicing in India may take a Qualified Lawyers
internship at Halifax General. Transfer Test (QLTT) which, if passed, allows
My father met my mother in England at Indian lawyers to practice in the supreme courts
Halifax General. They were married in England of England and Wales.
and remained there to allow my father to finish Like the fundamental principles shared by their
his internship. After completing his internship, my native systems of justice, my parents shared beliefs
father was offered a residency position at Harvard’s which were structurally similar. I consider myself
Massachusetts General Hospital. Because of the fortunate to have been raised in a household where
prestige of this institution and the opportunities my parents reflected on their diverse backgrounds
available in the United States, my parents immi- to teach the virtues of responsibility, compassion
grated to the United States. They eventually and a strong work-ethic. ■
moved to Chicago where they raised my sister and
It is true that my parents were raised in sepa-
rate parts of the world with culturally different
traditions. It is also true that their childhood and
educational backgrounds were very different. But,
in many respects, my parents were subjected to
the same governmental and judicial structure.
Thus, their exposure to formalized rules or justice SANJAY KUMAR is a judge at the San Fernando
systems was very similar. In fact, as explained Courthouse.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 29
Bradford Andrews (Long Beach) Phillip Mautino (Los Padrinos) Commissioner Stephen Marpet
presided over the Mock Trial was a guest speaker on the topic (Children’s Court)
Competition for the Constitutional of the Juvenile Justice System on March 30, 2006
Rights Foundation on March 17 the following dates:
and 18, 2006. Robert S. Harrison
Whittier Christian March 30, 2006
Aviva Bobb (Mosk) was a guest Junior High School
speaker for the Pasadena Bar April 6, 2006 Commissioner Lori-Anne C. Jones
Association’s Probate and Trust (Downey)
Section on the topic of a “View from La Mirada High School March 10, 2006
Department 1” on March 20, 2006. March 29, 2006
Richard S. Kemalyan
John P. Doyle (Glendale) partici- Signal Hill High Twelve March 09, 2006
pated in the Calabasas High School March 21, 2006
Mock Trial Competition Workshop Thomas Trent Lewis (Mosk)
at Pepperdine Law School on Bellflower High School March 03, 2006
February 17, 2006. February 15, 2006
Bellflower High School Victor L. Wright (Metropolitan)
Michael Hoff (Van Nuys) was a panel February 7, 2006 March 03, 2006
speaker at the San Fernando Valley
Bar Association’s symposium on
“What every Litigator Needs to Know
about ADR: A View from the Judges
and Mediators” on March 14, 2006.
ASSISTANT PRESIDING JUDGE STEPHEN CERTIFICATES WERE AWARDED TO TEMPORARY JUDGES AT AN APPRECIATION CEREMONY
J . CZULEGER CONGRATULATES MARK IN APRIL .
KOPEKIN , THE TEMPORARY JUDGE
VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR .
30 Gavel to Gavel
JUDGE BRADFORD L . ANDREWS
PRESIDES OVER THE MOCK
TRIAL COMPETITION FOR THE
above: JUDGES HELEN BENDIX AND
JOHN KRONSTADT PROUDLY DISPLAY
THEIR DAUGHTER NICOLA KRONSTADT ’ S
AWARD WINNING ARTWORK AT THE
PRESENTATION CEREMONY. HER PIECE
IS TITLED BLUE LABEL AND WON
FIRST PLACE IN THE YOUTH AGES 12–18
left: JUDGES COMMITTED TO THE TEEN
COURT PROGRAM MEET AT A HISTORIC
TEEN COURT SUMMIT TO DISCUSS THIS
ALTERNATIVE EARLY INTERVENTION COURT
THAT INVOLVES YOUNG PEOPLE IN
VARIOUS ROLLS IN THE TRIAL OF A JUVE -
NILE OFFENDER .
Los Angeles Superior Court Judicial Magazine 31
PHOTOS AT RIGHT FROM THE LEFT TOP
ACROSS AND MOVING DOWN : JUDGES
JAMES KADDO, KELVIN FILER , SANJAY KUMAR ,
RICHARD E . RICO, JACQUELINE NGUYEN ,
ZAVEN V. SINANIAN , SOUSSAN BRUGUERA ,
ELWOOD LUI , TAMMY CHUNG RYU,
ROLF M . TREU, DONNA GROMAN AND
32 Gavel to Gavel