AABA Newsletter - April 2018

President's Message

Dear AABA family,

Thank you to all those who attended and sponsored AABA’s 42nd Annual Gala: Better Together, Stronger United! It was an honor to see so many familiar and some new faces there. I continue to be inspired by our AABA members and the community we have built together. The Gala is only the beginning of another year for AABA to strengthen existing and forge new relationships, and keep working together to make our voices heard!

In this newsletter, we feature our 42nd Annual Gala honorees, including long-time AABA members San Francisco Superior Court Judges Cynthia Lee and Andrew Cheng and our newest and equally inspiring law student scholarship members. We are also pleased to share a wonderful introduction of the late Mayor Ed Lee by William Tamayo, telling the story of Mayor Lee’s humble beginnings as a community advocate, delivered at the Chinese Historical Society of America Gala on March 31. Finally, don’t miss our photos from the Gala and the Member Spotlight on U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu.

In solidarity,
David Tsai
AABA President

AABA President’s Remarks from the 42nd Annual Gala

Hello, AABA members, judges, distinguished guests, and friends! Thank you for being here tonight. By tonight's showing you can see that we are indeed one of the nation's oldest and largest local minority bars with over 1300 members!

I am proud to lead this organization as we both celebrate our 42nd birthdays! That's right - 42 years ago, my parents - immigrants from Taiwan - decided to have a son in America because they believed America would give me opportunities. As minorities in Michigan, my parents taught my sister and me what a privilege it is to be in America. We quickly assimilated to "American" ways. My dad - working for GM - proudly drove me to school in a Chevy. My mother went to Sears to see what other kids my age were bringing to school. I ended up with a He-Man lunch box and blue Nike sneakers. My parents would hush us if we were made fun of because we were Asian. They reminded us how lucky it was for us to be here. But then in 1982, terrible news arrived that just miles away from our home, a Chinese-American male, Vincent Chin had been beaten to death by a bat by two recently laid-off automotive plant workers. Vincent was murdered because he was Asian. My parents could no longer sit quietly. They gathered friends and strangers in our family room to make signs, pins, and t-shirts to protest. I remember watching my parents on national television marching hand-in-hand with their new friends on the streets of downtown Detroit with their signs and holding American flags shouting, "Justice for Vincent Chin." I learned from my parents that we are indeed Better Together, Stronger United.

When I came out to my mother years later, she turned to me and said “I see you're doing a lot of work on Gay and how do you say that word Les…bian rights. Are you still involved with Asian-American rights?” I turned to her and said, “have you heard of AABA?”

As you can see, this year's Gala has a different format. I want you to all mingle and reconnect with old friends and meet new friends. We are better when we can work together - learn from each other how you might want to do that this year with AABA. Talk to someone you ordinarily wouldn't speak with.

We are indeed much stronger united. I hope we can work united on the various issues facing our nation, having a stronger impact in making this country the best place it can be for our children to achieve their goals.

From my parents, I learned that equality would not be achieved unless we worked together as a community. Better Together, Stronger United. I'm proud to introduce to you the 2018 officers and board members who will help AABA achieve that this year: Vice President Charles Jung; Treasurer John Hamasaki; Secretary Michelle Park Chiu; and Board Members Lin Chan; Nathalie Le Ngoc; John Lough, Jr.; Marie Ma; Lisa Mak; Kelly Matayoshi; Sean Tamura-Sato; Robert Uy; and Jason Yee.

I'd now also like to bring up our immediate past president Miriam Kim. Miriam has done so much this year making sure AABA and its member did Stand Up for Justice! We appreciate her tireless work in bringing AABA to a higher place – including being recognized by NAPABA as the 2017 Affiliate of the Year and helping us grow our membership tremendously!

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42nd Annual Gala Honoree Profiles

Thank you to those who attended our 42nd Annual Gala: Better Together, Stronger United on March 22, 2018 and made it a rousing success! It was a full house of more than 800 attendees to celebrate our community’s accomplishments, including this year’s honorees:

AABA Outstanding Jurist Award
The Honorable Cynthia Lee
San Francisco Superior Court

Judge Cynthia Ming-mei Lee was the first Asian American woman Presiding Judge in the history of the San Francisco Superior Court. She was elected by the other judges to lead the Court in a time of severe financial conditions. A single mother who raised two sons in San Francisco, she is committed to equal access and equal justice for all.

Cynthia Lee is the granddaughter of immigrants who came to this country seeking a better life. They ran a Chinese laundry on the East Coast. Her father worked in a hardware store, and her mother was a clerk. She was raised in New York City’s Chinatown, attended public school, and earned a scholarship to Mount Holyoke College before moving to San Francisco to attend Golden Gate University School of Law.

After earning her law degree, Judge Lee worked briefly in private practice. She joined the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and was an Assistant District Attorney at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office from 1977 to 1998. She prosecuted violent crimes, sexual assault, domestic violence, and other cases. As supervising attorney in the Juvenile Division, she was on the team of justice partners who started a juvenile drug court (YTEC), an innovative program to combine treatment, education, and mentoring for juveniles charged with crimes.

Judge Lee is proud to have founded Veterans Justice Court (VJC) to assist veterans in our criminal justice system. VJC provides an individualized treatment plan for drug treatment, mental health services, and housing for veterans to enable them to access medical and treatment services and assist in homelessness. Judge Lee worked with the VA Medical Center and city agencies to achieve the goal of opening a court to offer services to veterans to help in addressing their needs, as alternatives to incarceration. As of January 2018, the Court had 124 graduates and the program has been widely viewed as a success.

Judge Lee co-founded the Truancy Action Partnership to work collaboratively with parents, school staff, and child welfare agencies to help parents overcome obstacles to school attendance in elementary schools. Working together with this team at El Dorado School, the partnership was able to decrease absentee days for many children in grades K-3. Judge Lee instituted mandatory domestic violence training for all judges and was recognized by the Commission on the Status of Women.

Judge Lee has presided over hundreds of criminal and civil trials. The civil cases included complicated will contests, residential and commercial real estate, medical malpractice, personal injury, and employment related cases. She has taught trial advocacy at Golden Gate Law School and mentored young lawyers. Lee has made presentations on civility in the courts to attorney and law students. She is currently the head of the Asbestos/CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) Department.

Judge Lee raised her children in a three-generation household and was an active volunteer at school, soccer, and rowing practices and events. She is an avid runner and yoga practitioner.

AABA Outstanding Jurist Award
The Honorable Andrew Cheng
San Francisco Superior Court

As a Chinese American with deep ties to the community, Judge Andrew Cheng relishes the opportunity to work every day to make the world a little bit better with good decisions. A lifelong Democrat, former Deputy City Attorney, and Assistant U.S. Attorney, Cheng gives back to the community through mentoring, teaching, and civic outreach.

Since his appointment to the San Francisco Superior Court in 2009, Judge Cheng has presided over criminal, civil, and probate cases including the Robin Williams trust dispute. In 2016, he issued a ruling that sided with veterans who argued they were being pushed out of the War Memorial Veterans Building. This ruling allowed veterans to continue to use the San Francisco War Memorial at no cost. He also expanded the use of assisted outpatient treatment for those suffering from mental illnesses at San Francisco General Hospital.

Judge Cheng currently presides over civil, criminal, and probate trials and serves as a settlement judge for civil mediations and settlement conferences. He has been married for 24 years to Yvonne Chan Cheng, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and part of a family of fifth-generation Californians. They have three children - Samuel, Joshua and Annie.

AABA Trailblazer Award
Edwin M. Lee
Late Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco

Edwin Lee served as the 43rd Mayor of San Francisco, the first Asian American to hold the office. Throughout his law and political career, he served the public with unwavering dedication. He was born in Seattle, Washington, and attended Bowdoin College and UC Berkeley School of Law. He began his law career as a law clerk at the Asian Law Caucus, then moved his way up to become managing attorney, advocating for the rights of Asian communities in the city.

Lee went on to occupy various positions in city government, and in 2005, was appointed City Administrator by then Mayor Gavin Newsom. After Gavin Newsom was elected Lieutenant Governor of California, Lee was appointed Mayor of San Francisco in 2011. He was reelected to serve the full Mayoral term in 2011, and was reelected again in 2015. As Mayor, Lee will be remembered for his initiative to revitalize the Mid-Market area of the city, increasing minimum wage in San Francisco and co-leading a campaign to increase California's minimum to $15 by 2022, and his dedication to improving the city of San Francisco. We honor the late Mayor Ed Lee for dedicating his life to public service and all that he did for the people and City of San Francisco.

AABA Social Justice Award
Jose Antonio Vargas
Define American

Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and leading voice for the human rights of immigrants. He is the founder and CEO of Define American, the nation’s leading nonprofit media and culture organization that fights injustice and anti-immigrant hate through the power of storytelling. His forthcoming memoir, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” will be published by HarperCollins in fall 2018.

In 2011, the New York Times Magazine published a groundbreaking essay he wrote in which he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant. A year later, he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine with fellow undocumented immigrants as part of a follow-up cover story he wrote. He then produced and directed Documented, a documentary feature film on his undocumented experience. It aired on CNN, streamed on Netflix, and received a 2015 NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Documentary. Also in 2015, MTV aired “White People,” an Emmy-nominated television special he produced and directed on what it means to be young and white in a demographically-changing America.

Among accolades Vargas has received are: The Salem Award from the Salem Award Foundation, which draws upon the lessons of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692; the Freedom to Write Award from PEN Center USA; and honorary degrees from Colby College and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Passionate about the role of arts in society and promoting equity in education, he serves on the advisory board of TheDream.US, a scholarship fund for undocumented immigrant students.

A product of the San Francisco Bay Area, he is a proud graduate of San Francisco State University (’04), where he was named Alumnus of the Year in 2012, and Mountain View High School (’00).

AABA General Counsel Milestone Award
Caroline Tsai
Executive Vice President and General Counsel, 
Western Union Company

Caroline Tsai is Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary for Western Union and a member of its executive leadership team. Tsai is responsible for the overall strategic leadership and oversight of Western Union’s global legal affairs, compliance, and corporate secretarial functions. Tsai also oversees the global public policy team, ethics, and privacy functions.

Prior to joining Western Union, Tsai was Deputy General Counsel and Chief Regulatory Officer at BMO Financial Group. While at BMO Financial Group, Tsai advised on advocacy and policy initiatives, as well as all bank regulatory and supervisory issues for BMO’s global operations, including Personal and Commercial Banking, Wealth Management, and Capital Markets. She also served as Chief Legal Officer, U.S. Personal and Commercial Banking.

Tsai is a strong champion for diversity and inclusion and serves as Co-Chair of the Women's Leadership Network of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tsai is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan and a juris doctor degree, magna cum laude, from The American University, Washington College of Law.

Joe Morozumi Award for Exceptional Legal Advocacy
Lisa P. Mak
Associate, Minami Tamaki LLP

Lisa P. Mak is an Associate in Minami Tamaki LLP’s Consumer and Employee Rights Group. Mak’s practice includes cases involving employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, labor violations, and severance negotiations. Prior to joining Minami Tamaki, Mak worked at prominent plaintiffs’ employment law and civil rights firms in San Francisco, where she served on trial teams for high-profile discrimination and retaliation cases. Since 2015, Mak has been selected as a SuperLawyers Rising Star. She graduated from UC San Diego, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and received her law degree from UC Hastings. During law school, she externed for an Administrative Law Judge in the U.S. Department of Labor and served as a Clinic Counselor for low-income workers at the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center. Mak served for three years as Co-Chair of AABA’s Community Services Committee, organizing pro bono legal clinics and other volunteer opportunities for attorneys and law students. Mak currently serves on the Board of Directors of Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach. She is the Co-Chair of the Diversity Outreach Committee of the California Employment Lawyers Association. She is also an active volunteer at the Workers’ Rights Clinic of the Asian Law Caucus. She is a state-certified domestic violence counselor and fluent in Cantonese.

AABA Vanguard Award

The “20x20” challenge was started in 2015 by Wilson Chu, Partner at McDermott Will & Emery, and Don Liu, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal & Risk Officer at Target Corporation, to reach 20 Asian American General Counsel of Fortune 500 companies by 2020. That challenge was fulfilled in December 2017 when Caroline Tsai was promoted to General Counsel at Western Union Company. The AABA Vanguard Award honors those who were instrumental to accomplishing the 20x20 challenge ahead of schedule.

Wilson Chu
McDermott Will & Emery LLP

John W. Kuo
Corporate Vice President and General Counsel
Varian Medical Systems, Inc.

Jean Lee
President and CEO
Minority Corporate Counsel Association

Don H. Liu
Executive Vice President and Chief Legal & Risk Officer
Target Corporation

Lee Hanson & Victoria Reese
Heidrick & Struggles International, Inc.

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Thank You AABA Law Foundation Scholarship Donors and 2018 Awardees

Congratulations to the 2018 AABA Law Foundation Scholarships recipients who were recognized at the 42nd Annual Gala! The scholarships were made possible by the generous donors to the AABA Law Foundation. We are proud to announce that in 2017-2018, there was 100% donor participation from the AABA and AABA Law Foundation Board of Directors. In addition, Salle Yoo, former General Counsel, Uber and Jeff Gray, Firm-wide Managing Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, have pledged $10,000 for summer grants - one $5,000 grant for a law student to work at a public interest law firm, and one $5,000 grant for a law student completing a judicial externship. Thank you to all our donors for providing opportunities to law students committed to serving their communities!


The Honorable Tracie Brown
The Honorable Edward Chen
The Honorable Keith Fudenna
The Honorable Delbert Gee
The Stuart and Rhoda Hing Foundation
The Honorable Victor Hwang
The Honorable Dennis Hayashi
The Honorable Elizabeth Lee
The Honorable JoLynne Lee
The Honorable Cynthia Lie
The Honorable Goodwin Liu
The Honorable Garrett Wong


Lin Chan
Lawrence Chew and Millie Jew

Michelle Park Chiu
Rhean Fajardo
Carin Fujisaki
Gibson Dunn
Deanna Gan
John Hamasaki
Joan Haratani
Charles Jung
Nathalie Le Ngoc
Jennifer Lee
Michael G.W. Lee
Celia Lee
Eumi Lee
David Lin
John B. Lough, Jr.
Marie Ma
Lisa Mak

Kelly Matayoshi
Jani Matsui
Dale Minami
Christine Noma
Raymond L. Ocampo Jr.
James Pampinella
Dorothy Chou Proudfoot
Shook, Hardy & Bacon
Sean Tamura-Sato
Ted Ting
David Tsai
Robert Uy
Christopher Walsh
Renee Wong
Catha Worthman
Suzanne Yamamoto
Jason Yee
Stanley Young


2018 Scholarship Awardees
(pictured in the above photo from left to right, with AABA Law Foundation President Christine Noma):

Garrick S. Lew Fellowship – John So – UC Hastings College of the Law
Asian Pacific American Judges’ Scholarship – Anita Suen – UC Berkeley School of Law
AABA Law Foundation Scholarship – Joyce Sun – Santa Clara University School of Law
Joe Morozumi Memorial Scholarship – Henna Kaushal - UC Berkeley School of Law
Raymond L. O’Campo Jr. Family Scholarship  Kristine Avena – UC Hastings College of the Law
California Bar Foundation/AABA Law Foundation 3L Diversity Scholarship – Kimberly Phan – UCLA School of Law (not pictured)

This month, we feature Kristine Avena's personal statement submitted with her scholarship application: 

When I was in high school, I vividly remember my mother’s excitement when she shared with me that the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court was Filipina. The more I read about her, the more I looked up to her not only as a role model, but also as a public servant who has opened the pathway for many underprivileged students. When I saw her picture on news articles, I saw someone who looked like me and had a similar story to me. I began to realize that my dream to become a judge was not so far-fetched after all. From then on, I promised myself that I would do everything I can to work in the California Supreme Court during law school and learn from its diverse Justices. Luckily, I made that dream come true. Although I was not able to obtain an externship with the Chief Justice, I am currently serving as a judicial extern for another inspiration of mine, Justice Goodwin Liu.

I was drawn to working for Justice Liu after watching him during an oral argument at the California Supreme Court. The case involved a youth offender who was sentenced to life without parole. Justice Liu challenged each party by asking tough questions about the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments. However, what stood out to me the most was Justice Liu’s natural tendency to empathize with the people who are affected by these decisions. I was so moved by his compassion and intellect that I walked straight to campus after the oral argument and filled out an application to work for him. A few days later, I received a call from his assistant asking if I can come in for an interview. And just a week later, Justice Liu called me himself to ask if I would like to join his team.

My first impression of Justice Liu’s character was on point. After working for him for approximately three weeks, I am convinced that he is the type of leader that I aspire to be someday. Justice Liu understands the duty that he has to the public and cares deeply about making the best decisions for the people involved. I intend to exhibit this same compassion when I become an attorney and hopefully a judge by looking at the law skeptically and thinking critically about the effect that a decision will have on people.

Furthermore, I will strive to be like Justice Liu, Justice Chin, the Chief Justice, Judge Koh, and David Chiu in terms of their tremendous involvement within the community. They have dedicated their careers to one of public service and opportunity. As Asian Americans, I believe that our upbringing has made us more conscious of our obligation to eliminate the socioeconomic barriers that our parents and grandparents endured. Thus, we naturally gravitate towards careers where we can serve others. For me, I have taken every opportunity I can to give back to my community while I am in law school. Whether it is by mentoring younger law students or volunteering at non-profits and within the government, I truly believe that there is value in increasing diversity within the public sector to ensure that Asian Americans are heard and represented.

Finally, I aspire to exercise the same resilience that these Asian American leaders have demonstrated throughout their journeys. For example, many, if not all, of these leaders were likely the first attorney in their family. Similarly, I am the first in my family to graduate from college and attend law school. My mother and father are both immigrants from the Philippines and came to the United States when they were 18 and 20 years old. My mother had my eldest sister when she was 19 years old and raised us in the disadvantageous areas of Long Beach, California. As the sole provider for my family, my mother has been working as a nurse for more than two decades and has struggled to provide for me, my three siblings, and my father. Because of the lessons I learned from strong Asian American women like my mother, I have learned how to be resilient in the face of hardship. Because of her sacrifices, I can pursue my passion to become an attorney to serve the public. I intend to do the same for others.

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Introduction of Edwin M. Lee, Recipient of the Philip and Sarah Choy Community Service Award, Chinese Historical Society of America
Reprinted with permission by William Tamayo
Former Staff and Managing Attorney, Asian Law Caucus 1979-1995
Speech delivered on March 31, 2018 at Chinatown: Past, Present, Future - CHSA Gala 2018

I want to thank Hoyt Zia and Jane Chin for inviting me tonight. And I want to just confirm for all that, yes, Rick Quan and I were separated at birth.

I’m very honored to say a few words about my former colleague Ed Lee on the same night that Phil and Sarah Choy’s contributions are recognized. You see, my parents-in-law, Dan and June Lee, were close friends of Uncle Phil and Auntie Sarah. It started in 1943 when June, then 21, traveled with 3 girlfriends from Seattle to relocate in San Francisco. They stayed at the Chinatown YWCA and met Sarah who was working in the office. June, Sarah and the other young women would become lifelong friends. A few years ago, my wife Debbie Lee and I hosted Sarah, Phil, Lilly Kwock, Tom Chin, Mamie Chin, Emma Louie and all their friends from way back at our home. Phil and Sarah exemplified the values of “community service” and “community involvement”, and Uncle Phil never minced words in expressing his outrage at racism in our city and country.

Now how ironic that just two blocks from the YWCA, I would work with Ed Lee in 1976 at the Asian Law Caucus’ first Chinatown office at 124 Waverly Place when we were both first year law clerks. I learned that Ed had lived in the government housing projects in Seattle, that his father died when Ed was 14 and he was forced to work in restaurants as a dishwasher to help his family. Ed understood poverty and hardships.

That summer, tenants from the Ping Yuen Housing Project complained to us about the lack of hot water and heat, about the broken elevators and broken lights in the hallways and stairways, and that no one at the Housing Authority office spoke Cantonese. Ed and I accompanied a Housing Authority engineer named Wilkin Lee to the projects to examine the conditions. Sure enough, the lights were out and the hot water in one apartment was at best “lukewarm” which I pointed out to the engineer. He responded, “Well, I think it’s warm enough for my daughter.”

But we knew that City Hall and the Housing Authority would do nothing. After all, this was the mid-1970’s – no Asian had been elected to any public office in the city, Chinatown - packed with 100,000 people in a 12 square block area - had the highest tuberculosis and highest suicide rates in the country, the I Hotel tenants were facing eviction, and the Ping Yuen tenants were limited English-speaking immigrants, had little money and were marginalized. But the Asian Law Caucus’ philosophy was that change requires an organized group of tenants, workers or consumers. The turning point was when a 19 year old tenant came home and was forced to take the unlit stairs because the elevators were broken. A gang of boys attacked her in the stairwell, raped her and threw her body from the top floor onto the courtyard – not once, but twice. She died. That act of violence propelled the tenants to take action, and Ed organized and galvanized them into a protesting machine for justice to take on City Hall.

Despite the political and legal odds, these immigrant tenants began the first public tenant rent strike in San Francisco. The campaign would last three years. Reflecting his commitment to the tenants, Ed graduated from law school in May 1978 but deferred taking the bar exam for a year so that he could continue organizing. Mind you, the Caucus wasn’t paying Ed for any of his work. But in March 1979, Larry Yee and I had just been hired as attorneys on these great CETA salaries of $10,000 a year, and so one Caucus attorney had the bright idea that Larry and I should each kick in a $150 a month to Ed from our $640 monthly take home - “just like a collective, comrade”. And we did for 3-4 months. Heck, Ed was so broke that he and Anita were married at the Salvation Army and I was the musical entertainment. Ed took a part time job to make ends meet and to pay for the $400 bar exam. But all these efforts paid off as the City settled our lawsuit, and made the necessary repairs and reforms.

Ed became a staff attorney in late 1979 and led the Housing Project, taking on numerous cases to stop evictions of Chinese immigrant tenants. At the Asian Law Caucus we weren’t just progressive lawyers, but rather, we were “activists with legal skills” and consequently, Ed used the model of building tenant associations to achieve short and long term changes. Ed was part of the Caucus’ efforts to represent Chinese garment workers who weren’t paid their wages due – which was a common problem in San Francisco.

Ed was part of the team that sued the San Francisco Fire Department for employment discrimination on behalf of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and women. It was a fierce battle as the Black and Asian firefighters were retaliated against including the placement of a swastika on a Chinese firefighter’s locker in the midst of the litigation, and the “anonymous call” to the wife of a Black fighter who was told that her husband had been seriously injured in a fire even though he was safe at the station. The case settled and now there are more people of color and women in the department and we have had a Black Chief and have a Female Chief.

To make all these victories possible, Ed made a lot of sacrifices and so did his family. Often time Ed was at a late night meeting with tenants, workers or the legal team, and missed many evenings with his wife Anita and his then young daughters Briana and Tania. I want to thank Anita and their daughters for those sacrifices.

Ed spent three years as a law clerk and organizer and ten years as a staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus. I remember Ed as the fighter and the dogged litigator, but also the compassionate advocate. Ed saw and understood the many aspects of the human condition. Okay, he was also a fierce basketball player who could take over a game with his passing, speed and shooting and who was an equal opportunity hacker and trash talker. But his unswerving commitment and dedication to justice, to the empowerment of tenants and workers, and to working with a variety of people to make change are rightfully honored tonight. Ed’s activism and life reflected the strong determination and compassion that Phil and Sarah Choy shared with us for decades. So, please join the Chinese Historical Society of America in honoring Ed Lee with the Phil and Sarah Choy Community Service Award, and please welcome, Ed’s wife, Anita Lee. Thank you.

Ed Lee photos courtesy of Audee Holman, Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus.

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AABA Membership Spotlight: The Honorable Donna M. Ryu

Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu was appointed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in March 2010. Prior to taking the bench, Judge Ryu was a Clinical Professor of Law at UC Hastings, and before that at Golden Gate University Law School. She began her career as a commercial litigator with McCutchen, Doyle, Brown and Enersen, then joined an Oakland-based firm specializing in class actions, and later founded her own firm. 

Judge Ryu is a past recipient of AABA's Joe Morozumi Award for Exceptional Legal Advocacy, the NAPABA Trailblazer Award, and the Rutter Award for Excellence in Teaching. She has also been honored as a California Lawyer of the Year in Employment Law.

First job: My parents emigrated from Korea in the late 1940s.  What they lacked in funds, they more than made up with energy and idealism. I was born in California, along with my four brothers.  My parents’ first business was a 13-room motel. The seven of us lived in the manager quarters, and provided the sweat equity for the family enterprise. My younger brother's first words were "No Vacancy."  To him, that signified "happy family time," because it meant that all the rooms were sold for the night and my parents could finally relax.  My first job was cleaning rooms. I'm really good at hospital corners.  

Favorite books: Anything by Ann Patchett (my favorite is "The Magician's Assistant"). Recent non-fiction favorites include "M Train" by Patti Smith, and J.D. Vance’s "Hillbilly Elegy," which I’m in the middle of reading. My guilty pleasure is mystery novels, including those by Laurie King and Donna Leon.

Favorite food: A steaming bowl of soon dubu chigae always sets me right. Whenever my daughter comes home for a visit, we pig out on Korean food. We always end up asking for extra banchan.

What do you like about your job? It's an honor to serve on one of the finest trial courts in the country, where the docket is filled with cutting-edge matters argued by terrific lawyers. I have colleagues who inspire me every day with their integrity, commitment, smarts, and collegiality. My job description is to "do justice." What's not to like about any of that!

What is the least favorite part of your job? Handling discovery disputes where it feels like the attorneys are auditioning for a new reality TV show called "Lawyers Behaving Badly." It doesn't happen often, but it happens more than it should.

What have you been doing for fun lately? Did you know that the Northern District of California has an unofficial house band called "The Recusals," led by the Honorable Edward M. Chen? We have performed at the annual district conference, and this summer we'll be featured at the Ninth Circuit conference. It's fun to debate tempos and harmonies for a change, instead of the finer points of law.

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Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Public-Sector Unions’ “Agency Fees”
By Philip J. Tacason
3L at University of California, Hastings College of the Law
With thanks to Gilbert Tsai, Partner, Hanson Bridgett, LLP

In February, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could dramatically reduce the power of public-sector unions across the country. 

At issue in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, No. 16-1466, is whether public sector unions’ “fair share” fees – which unions may deduct from the paychecks of both union members and nonmembers to finance their collective bargaining activities – constitute a violation of the First Amendment. 

Plaintiff Mark Janus, a child-support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, brought suit challenging the constitutionality of public sector unions’ “fair share" arrangements.” Currently, individual states can decide whether to allow fair share arrangements for public sector employees. In 22 states, including Illinois, unions are allowed to charge nonmember employees “fair share” or “agency shop” fees under the theory that all employees – both members and nonmembers of the union – benefit from the union’s collective bargaining activities.  Janus, a nonmember, was assessed a monthly deduction of $45 which went to the local branch of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees ("AFSCME"). 

Janus contends that these fair share fees violate his First Amendment rights because AFSCME uses these fees to finance speech that is intended to influence the government’s personnel policies through the collective bargaining process. He argues that he and other nonmember workers should be allowed to opt out of paying fair share fees.   

Janus seeks to overturn the 40-year-old precedent established in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977). In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Michigan law allowing public sector unions to assess agency fees on non-member employees. The Court held that these fees could be used to cover the union’s costs in negotiating contracts that apply to all public employees, but could not be used for non-collective-bargaining purposes, such as political lobbying.  

In 2016, the Court faced a similar issue in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which the Court was asked to determine whether agency shop arrangements violated the First Amendment rights of a group of California public school teachers. Although the Supreme Court was widely anticipated to rule against the constitutionality of agency shop arrangements in that case, it did not reach a conclusion before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The result was a 4-4 split decision, and the Court later issued a one sentence order affirming the Ninth Circuit’s judgment in favor of the union. 

All nine justices were present at February's oral argument in the Janus case. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who likely represents the deciding ninth vote, did not ask any questions during the one-hour argument.    

Union leaders rightly fear that Justice Gorsuch will vote with the other conservative justices in favor of Janus, and rule against the constitutionality of fair share arrangements. Although the precise effects of such a decision are unclear, it would likely deal a significant blow to the power of public sector unions across the nation. The entire U.S. public sector would be transformed into a “right-to-work” zone – in which nonmembers may opt out of union dues while still reaping the benefits of the union’s bargaining efforts. 

A decision for Janus would eliminate a crucial source of unions’ revenue. It could also result in a decrease in union membership. For example, when Wisconsin Republicans adopted “right-to-work” legislation in 2015, union membership in the state dropped by 3.4 percent the following year. 

California is one of the 22 states that currently allow fair share arrangements. According to the California Labor Federation, around 2.5 million public and private sector employees in the state are members of a union. 

The Justices are likely to render a decision in the Janus case by early summer. 

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An Update from 2017 Garrick S. Lew Fellowship Awardee Christopher Gueco

Christopher Gueco was awarded the 2017 Garrick S. Lew Fellowship, funded by the Minami Tamaki Yamauchi Kwok & Lee (MTYKL) Foundation. With his scholarship, he was able to gain crucial experience to become a criminal defense attorney. Christopher provided an update on the opportunities he was able to pursue and the network he gained with the scholarship:

First, I would like to again thank the Asian American Bar Association, the entire MTYKL Foundation, and the Lew Family for making this scholarship possible. At the time I was selected as the recipient of this scholarship, I was in the middle of my last semester of law school and had applied for post-bar positions at multiple public defenders’ offices. Although these positions offer the experience necessary to be a great criminal defense attorney, the majority of these positions are unpaid. Being awarded this scholarship removed this financial barrier and enabled me to select an office solely based on the experience that they offered. This allowed me to accept a post-bar position at the Solano County Public Defender’s Office which later turned into an extra help contract as a Deputy Public Defender.

The Garrick S. Lew Scholarship provided me with not only financial support but the support of a community of lawyers who are the kind of lawyer I aspire to be, and the type of lawyer Mr. Lew will always be remembered as--a tireless advocate in the war for social justice and equality. Although I did not have the privilege of meeting Mr. Lew, being a recipient of this scholarship has brought me closer to a community of individuals who consider Mr. Lew as their mentor, friend, and inspiration. Meeting these individuals proved just how much of an influence Mr. Lew had in his community. Fierce advocates like Abigail Rivamonte, Jonah Chew, Edwin Prather, Sue Ra, and many more attorneys who consider Mr. Lew as their mentor, have continuously offered their support and have mentored me throughout the post-graduation process. Just like the individuals who had supported me post-incarceration, these individuals are a major factor in my success.

In my personal statement I shared that the last words my grandma told me was “É mu kakalingwan ing pibatan mu” (“don’t forget where you came from”). I am truly grateful for the financial support the Garrick S. Lew Scholarship has provided me and for the community it has introduced me to. In my office, I hang the award provided to me during the scholarship dinner. On that award is a post-it stating “earn it.” With the support I continuously receive by my community, I am confident I will.

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Photos from the 42nd Annual Gala: Better Together, Stronger United

Event Photo Galleries

AABA and Community Events Calendar

April 18
AABA Solo Small Firm Committee Kickoff Event
6:00 - 7:30 pm
TransAmerica Pyramid, 600 Montgomery Street, Suite 440, San Francisco, CA 94111

Please come to learn more about the Solo and Small Firms Committee and help us plan our events for 2018!

RSVP here.

April 18
2nd Annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Mixer
6:00 - 9:00 pm
Jones, 620 Jones St., San Francisco, CA 94102

Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with Bay Area leaders and network with other professionals! 

Free admission. No need to RSVP. More information here.

April 18 (Oakland) and April 25 (San Francisco)
The AABA Community Services Committee and Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (APILO) operate a pro bono legal clinic that is staffed by volunteer attorneys and law students. The clinic helps ensure that low-income Bay Area residents, including many mono-lingual immigrants, will receive free legal information and advice from AABA volunteers. The APILO/AABA clinic assists individuals in a number of areas, including immigration and family law issues.

The Oakland clinic is held on the 3rd Wednesday of each month from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at APILO’s office at 310 8th Street, Suite 308, Oakland 94607. The San Francisco clinic is held on the 4th Wednesday of each month from 5:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at UC Hastings’ Civil Justice Clinic at 100 McAllister Street, Suite 300. 

If you are interested in volunteering at the clinic, please contact the AABA Community Services Committee co-chairs for more information about the clinic. 

April 21
Hikes & Hellos with the AABA Women's Committee
10:00 - 12:00 pm
USS San Francisco Memorial Parking Lot, 2400 El Camino Del Mar, San Francisco (Parking lot with benches)

Hike Lands End with the AABA Women's Committee. Sandwich lunch will be provided.

RSVP here.

April 25
Support the Campaign to Retain Our San Francisco Superior Court Judges
5:00 pm
Hanson Bridgett, 425 Market Street, 26th Floor San Francisco, California

Join us in supporting the Campaign to Retain Our San Francisco Superior Court JudgesJudge Andrew Cheng, Judge Curtis Karnow, Judge Cynthia Lee, Judge Jeffrey RossPlease come join the effort to protect our courts from politicization and enhance judicial independence. 

Email aproen@hansonbridgett.com to RSVP.

April 27
46th Anniversary Dinner: Celebrate the Power of Resistance for Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus
6:00 - 9:00 pm
Hilton Union Square Grand Ballroom, 333 O’Farrell Street in San Francisco

In the past year, we’ve seen the power of our communities coming together to resist. This April, join us for our 46th Annual Gala. Each year, our annual gala features a keynote speaker and an awards presentation honoring individuals or organizations who have made a significant impact in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community through their exemplary works in defense of civil rights. With an attendance of more than 800 attorneys, civic leaders, and business professionals representing the robustness and diversity of the AAPI communities, your support of our annual banquet helps to continue our legal services and civil rights work on behalf of AAPIs and all underserved communities.

April 28
Community Services Committee Event with Rebuilding Together San Francisco
7:30 am to 1:00 pm
Judith Baker Child Development Center, 685 Natoma Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

Come join the AABA Community Services Committee, Union Bank, and “Rebuilding Together San Francisco” ("RTSF") as we refurbish a local community site. While this year's activities are still to be determined, past activities include landscaping, painting, and creating an edible garden for the children at a neighborhood center. This is a great opportunity for you, your family and friends to get involved, and to help a non-profit organization that has been providing childcare and family services in the local community since 1976!

Breakfast (coffee, tea and bagels/donuts) and lunch will be available for the volunteers. AABA will host a happy hour/dinner for volunteers following this free event. Public transit and carpooling are highly recommended.

RTSF provides free repairs to low income seniors and free renovations to non-profit facilities throughout the city. Now in their 29th year, RTSF ensures that low income seniors and families in San Francisco remain safe, warm and independent in their homes and that community members in need can receive services from social service agencies in functional and healthy environments.              

RSVP here.


May 11
In-House Lunch @ Gap
11:30 - 1:00 pm
GAP, Inc. HQ, 2 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94105

Please join the AABA In-House and Women’s Committees for the next AABA "Off the Record" In-House Lunch Series: "Negotiations”.

This is a great opportunity to meet other in-house counsel in the Bay Area, and have a candid discussion about the issues and challenges we face in our profession and inside a corporation. Bring your questions!

AABA members who are also current in-house attorneys are invited to attend. Attendance is limited to 20 people, and a waitlist will be available. We will provide an update if slots for other attorneys become available.

This event was made possible by FLEX by Fenwick, the exclusive 2017-2018 In-House Committee Lunch Series Sponsor. 

RSVP by May 4th.

RSVP here.

May 16 (Oakland) and May 23 (San Francisco)
The AABA Community Services Committee and Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (APILO) operate a pro bono legal clinic that is staffed by volunteer attorneys and law students. The clinic helps ensure that low-income Bay Area residents, including many mono-lingual immigrants, will receive free legal information and advice from AABA volunteers. The APILO/AABA clinic assists individuals in a number of areas, including immigration and family law issues.

The Oakland clinic is held on the 3rd Wednesday of each month from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at APILO’s office at 310 8th Street, Suite 308, Oakland 94607. The San Francisco clinic is held on the 4th Wednesday of each month from 5:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at UC Hastings’ Civil Justice Clinic at 100 McAllister Street, Suite 300. 

If you are interested in volunteering at the clinic, please contact the AABA Community Services Committee co-chairs for more information about the clinic. 

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