a hasty replacement for the late judge sandra otaka

A few weeks back, I wrote about the passing of Judge Sandra Otaka, the first Asian American to be elected a judge in Cook County, Illinois.

Now, it usually takes the Illinois Supreme Court about four months, on average, to name a replacement judge, but it apparently took only six days to replace Judge Otaka. What's up with that? Why the hasty replacement?

Judge Otaka was the only Asian American full circuit court judge in Cook County. There are now zero Asian Pacific Americans out of 381 Cook County full Circuit Court judges. The community is not pleased:
Nearly three-dozen groups protest lack of transparency in appointment process

Local Asian American leaders are outraged, dismayed, and disappointed by the hasty action of the llinois Supreme Court to fill a seat left vacant by the recent death of Circuit Co urt Judge Sandra Otaka.

Otaka, who died on Saturday, June 5th, was the first and only Asian American elected to serve as a circuit court judge in Cook County. Her successor was appointed just five days after her death -- before the judge had even been laid to rest.

"The circumstances surrounding the appointment of Judge Otaka's successor suggests that the decision was made without regard to the changing demographics of the comm unity she served," said Diana Lin, president of the Asian American Institute (AAI).

Otaka, first elected judge in 2002, was retained last November in the 9th Judicial Subcircuit District -- home to Cook County's largest concentration of Asian Americans (about 300,000 residents).

The public outcry from community leaders came after they learned that the Illinois Supreme Court had appointed, as Otaka's successor, someone with no ties, or familiarity, with the county's Asian American community.

Nearly three-dozen Asian American groups (see attached list) are demanding more transparency in the appointment process and pushing for diversity on the bench with qualified candidates. The Asian American Bar Association, which expected to be consulted for recommendations of qualified candidates, had not even been notified that the process to select Otaka's successor was already ongoing.

"There are Asian American lawyers qualified to merit consideration for Judge Otaka's vacancy," says Anne I. Shaw, immediate past president of20the Asian American Bar Association (AABA). "Given the historic significance of Judge Otaka's election and her stature as a beloved icon for Asian Americans, we had hoped that the Illinois Supreme Court would have exercised some sensitivity to Cook County's Asian American community by giving strong consideration to the prospect of appointing an Asian American, appointing someone with ties to our community or, at least, alerting Asian American community leaders."

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing minority group within the legal profession, yet continue to be grossly underrepresented in the judiciary. Otaka championed the effort to increase diversity in the Cook County court system. Her death leaves only six judges of Asian ancestry in the county. However, all six are associate judges -- not full circuit court judges like Otaka.

Groups protesting the recent action of the Illinois Supreme Court include:

Asian American Bar Association of Greater Chicago
Apna Ghar
Asian American Coalition of Chicago
Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE)
Asian American Action Fund Greater Chicago
Asian American Institute
Asian Chronicle USA
Asian Health Coalition of Illinois
Asian Pacific Americans for Progress-Chicago
Chinese American Bar Association
Chinese American Service League
Chinese Mutual Aid Association
Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community
Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago
Filipino American Network
Hanul Family Alliance
Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services
Indo-American Democratic Organization
Indian American Bar Association
Japanese American Citizens League
Korean American Association of Chicago
Korean American Bar Association of Chicago
Korean American Community Services
Korean American Resource and Cultural Center
Korean American Women in Need
Muslim Women’s Resource Center
National Association of Asian American Professionals- Chicago
National Association of Asian Pacific American Educators – Illinois Chapter
Organization of Chinese Americans- Greater Chicago Chapter
Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Chicago
Pui Tak Center
Punjabi Cultural Society of Chicago
South Asian American Policy and Research Institute
South Asian Progressive Action Collective
Southeast Asia Center
Sikh American Heritage Organization
Yes, that's right. Judge Otaka's successor -- someone with apparently no ties or familiarity with Cook County's Asian American community -- was appointed just five days after her death, before the judge had even been laid to rest.

The replacement doesn't necessarily have to be Asian American (that would be nice), but the appointment process should be more transparent, and you just can't understate the importance of diversity on the bench. Cook County deserves better.

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