Judge Takasugi

takasugi190Federal Judge Robert M. Takasugi, the first Japanese American to be appointed as an Article III federal judge, passed away on Aug. 3, 2009. 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.

About the Honorable Robert M. Takasugi

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “the right of every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time.” No person has taken this issue to heart more than Robert M. Takasugi.

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 sixties’.

After serving on the Los Angeles Municipal and Superior Court benches, Judge Takasugi became the first Japanese American appointed to the federal bench in 1976. As both a district court judge for a quarter century 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 has authored numerous cutting edge opinions including: Bouman v. Pitchess (court trial finding discrimination against female sheriffs in sergeant promotional exam); Lyons v. City of Los Angeles (issuing a preliminary injunction against LAPD for its use of choke holds); Colorado River Indian Tribes v. Marsh (environmental protection action by Native Americans against federal and state governments); Asian American Business Group v. City of Pomona (finding unconstitutional the city ‘s ordinance requiring all business signs be partially in English); People for Community Empowerment v. City of Long Beach (questioning the constitutionality of the city’s public-gathering permit process); Weiner v. FBI (releasing FBI documents under FOIA related to the politically motivated surveillance of John Lennon); Gonzales v. McEuen (due process for high school students facing expulsion); and US v. DeLorean (high profile criminal drug case against auto maker including allegations of evidence held by publisher Larry Flynt).

It was in DeLorean that the The American Lawyer had this to say about Judge Takasugi:

It would be impossible to come away from an examination of this trial and its jury without renewed appreciation for the role of judge. Takasugi’s good humor, scrupulous fairness, and attention to the jurors gave them the appreciation for the process and the inspiration to make it work that impelled them to meet a very high public calling. He raised the level of the proceedings to the highest plane, and his jurors met him there.

Robert M. Takasugi is truly an extraordinary person who is, 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 cell of the Moujahedeen Khalq, a group seeking to overthrow the current Iranian government. The defendants challenged the government’s unilateral characterization of the Iranian opposition 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 has 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 have 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 has tirelessly labored to encourage each of his students and mentees to reach their full potential and to give back to the community.

In the sixties, 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, Judge Takasugi still takes time to teach various bar review subjects. He is assisted by a who’s who of local attorneys as teaching alumni who share his vision of community service, such as Erwin Chemerinsky and Charles Whitebread. The bar review course continues to have a 90% passage rate.

Judge Takasugi also mentored the founders of the Asian Law Caucus who battled for the vindication of all Japanese Americans in Korematsu v. US (reversing the conviction of a Japanese American refusing to be interned and 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, and the Coeur de’ Alene Indian Reservation, 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.