judge sandra otaka, 1952-2009

Sandra Otaka, the first Asian American to be elected a judge in Cook County, Illinois, and a staunch defender of her community, died Saturday of natural causes at her home in Chicago. She was 57: Sandra Otaka, 1952-2009: 1st Asian-American elected a Cook County judge.

Born in California, she was a third-generation Japanese-American. Her mother and grandparents were held in U.S. internment camps during World War II.

As a student at UC Berkeley, she volunteered as a legal clerk with an Asian-American law firm, where she worked to successfully overturn the conviction of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American shipyard worker jailed in 1944 for failing to report to an internment camp. It was a pivotal moment in her legal career.

Appointed to the bench by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2000, she became only the second Asian American to be elected a judge by Illinois voters when in 2002 she was retained as a Child Protection Division judge, hearing abuse and neglect cases. I had never heard of her until the news of her passing, but it sounds like she was an inspirational, influential woman.

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