judge robert m. takasugi dies

U.S. federal judge Robert M. Takasugi, the first Japanese American appointed to the federal bench, and a pioneer and mentor to many, passed away earlier this week. He was 78. Here's the press release that was passed along to me:
Community Mourns Loss of Judge Robert M. Takasugi, First Japanese American Appointed to Federal Bench

Federal Judge Robert M. Takasugi, the first Japanese American appointed to the federal bench, passed away earlier this week. He is survived by his wife Dorothy, his son Jon, and his daughter Lee.

Judge Takasugi became the first Japanese American appointed to the federal bench for the Central District of California in 1976, after serving on the Los Angeles Municipal and Superior Court benches. As both a district court judge for 33 years and an invitee of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Takasugi’s work has consistently been marked by a high degree of integrity and a commitment to equal access to justice.

Judge Takasugi was a truly extraordinary person who was, as the Los Angeles Times described him, a jurist who "swims against the national tide."

In 2002, he gained national media attention for his dismissal of several indictments against Iranian and Iranian American defendants, alleged to be members of a terrorist cell attempting to overthrow the Iranian government. The defendants challenged the government’s unilateral characterization of the group as a terrorist organization.

In the face of post-9/11 public sentiment, Judge Takasugi ruled that the government’s procedure for classifying the group as a terrorist organization was unconstitutional because the classification was made without due process of law. Judge Takasugi opined, "When weighed against a fundamental constitutional right which defines our very existence, the argument for national security should not serve as an excuse for obliterating the Constitution."

Through his service on the Judicial Affirmative Action and Indigent Panel Committees, Judge Takasugi always strived to expand the participation in law of women and people of color. He was the first judge in the Central District of California to hire a female law clerk.

But perhaps Judge Takasugi’s greatest contributions occurred outside the courthouse, in his role as teacher, mentor and role model to thousands of law students and attorneys. By personal example and leadership, Judge Takasugi tirelessly labored to encourage each of his students and mentees to reach their full potential and to give back to the community.

In the 1960s, Judge Takasugi founded a pro bono bar review course for public interest and minority law students. Although the course is no longer taught in his home, the class continues under the leadership of Judge Takasugi’s son, Jon, himself a judge for the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Judge Takasugi also mentored the founders of the Asian Law Caucus who battled for the vindication of all Japanese Americans by seeking coram nobis review of Korematsu v. United States (reversing the conviction of a Japanese American who resisted internment, finding that the internment had been based on misleading information about Japanese Americans).

The diversity of groups which have honored Judge Takasugi - including the American Bar Association, the Mexican Bar Association, the Pilipino Bar Association, the Japanese American Bar Association, the Korean American Youth Foundation, the Criminal Courts Bar Association, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the Coeur de’ Alene Indian Reservation, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, just to name a few - is a testament to his commitment, not only to the Asian American community, but to justice and expanding opportunities for all.

Civil rights lawyer Dale Minami said: "The Asian American community has few true role models. Bob Takasugi was, and will continue to be, our role model."

Dolly Gee, co-founder of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Los Angeles, described Judge Takasugi as a "towering figure in the Asian American legal community," and said that he "inspired all of us with his compassion for those less fortunate and unswerving devotion to justice. He will live on in the hearts and minds of those who loved and admired him, and in the legal decisions he authored over the course of his career which challenged us to live up to our ideals."

Victor Hwang, a former extern to Judge Takasugi and a former Asian Law Caucus attorney said that: "More than just a trailblazer, Judge Takasugi was the driving force behind the conscience of the Asian American legal community. He pushed me to take issues further. He was never content to let things be just ‘good enough.’ He wanted us to be better; better for ourselves, and better for the community."

A twelve-year old Robert M. Takasugi and his family were uprooted from their home in Tacoma, Washington, relocated, and interned along with 130,000 other Japanese Americans pursuant to President Order 9066. Describing the ordeal as "an education to be fair" and one of many challenges he faced, Takasugi went on to receive degrees from UCLA and USC Law School. Thereafter, his commitment to equal justice took him to the streets of East Los Angeles, where he represented many indigent arrestees of the Watts Riots, East Los Angeles Riots, and other civil rights protestors in the 1960s before being appointed to the bench.

For media inquiries, contact Edwin Prather, President of the Asian Pacific Bar of California, at eprather@clarencedyer.com or 415-749-1800.
In 1999, the Robert M. Takasugi Public Interest Fellowship was established to promote the vision and values of public interest legal work in honor of Judge Takasugi. He was an extraordinary public servant whose work had immeasurable impact, and lives on in a legacy that gives back the community at large.

UPDATE: Here's an obituary from the Los Angeles Times: Robert M. Takasugi dies at 78; Japanese American federal judge had been interned in World War II relocation camp.

A memorial service for Judge Takasugi will be held in Los Angeles on Thursday, August 13, 2009, at 4 p.m. at Town and Gown (665 Exposition Blvd.) located on the main campus of the University of Southern California just north of the Law Center. Parking is available in Parking Structure 2 off of Flower Street north of Exposition, and at Exposition Park.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Robert M. Takasugi Pro Bono Bar Review. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to the "JEF – Pro Bono Bar Review," c/o Japanese American Bar Association, P.O. Box 86063, Los Angeles, CA 90086.

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