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Top Legal Award Re-dedicated In Honor Of Senator Daniel K. Inouye

At the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association national convention in Kansas City on November 8, NAPABA’s highest honour, formerly the NAPABA Trailblazer Award, was re-dedicated as the Senator Daniel K. Inouye NAPABA Trailblazer Award to serve as an ongoing tribute the achievements of U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye (1924-2012).

Trailblazer awards on table

NAPABA represents over 40,000 Asian lawyers and judges in the U.S. and approximately 3,000 Asian lawyers, judges, and students in Canada, through the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL). NAPABA has been at the forefront of civil rights reform and, as a member of the Coalition of Bar Associations of Color, of combating racism in the U.S.

Discover Nikkei readers will no doubt be familiar Senator Inouye’s achievements. With a distinguished tenure of 49 years in the United States Senate, Senator Daniel K. Inouye was the second longest serving Senator in history, and, as third in line to the U.S. Presidency from 2010-2012, Senator Inouye was also the highest ranking public official of Asian decent in United States history.

As a member of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Senator Inouye lost his right arm in action during the Second World War and he received the highest award for military valour in the United States, the Medal of Honor.

For his work in the U.S. Senate, Senator Inouye was widely respected for his commitment to bipartisan initiatives to enact meaningful legislation and for his commitment to the championing of peace, justice, and equality issues.

Senator Inouye is said to have inspired confidence in all who knew him with his encouragement for all to pursue their dreams with a healthy dose of optimism for the future. He will continue as an inspiration for generations; particularly to those of Asian decent living in North America.

Senator Inouye was the first posthumous recipient of the NAPABA award named in his honour, which was presented by NAPABA President Wendy Shiba to Senator Inouye’s widow, Irene Hirano.

Re-dedication of award - Daniel Inouye on screen


NAPABA President Wendy Shiba and Judge Maryka Omatsu

Judge Maryka Omatsu became the first Canadian to receive a NAPABA Trailblazer Award when she received the Senator Daniel K. Inouye NAPABA Trailblazer Award at the annual NAPABA convention.

Judge Omatsu became Canada’s first woman of Asian origin appointed to the bench when she was appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice in 1993. Prior to her appointment, Judge Omatsu practised criminal, environmental, and human rights law, defended Aboriginal rights, and served as Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Appeals Tribunal.

NAPABA honoured Judge Omatsu for being Canada’s first Asian woman judge and, fittingly for this 25th anniversary year, for her role in the negotiation of the 1988 Japanese Canadian redress settlement.

The global legal significance of the precedent that the Japanese Canadian redress settlement set cannot be understated. The $400 million dollar award brokered by the National Association of Japanese Canadians was the largest human rights award in Canadian history and, from its reference in the Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System In Canada (a.k.a. the Krever Tainted Blood Inquiry) in the early 1990s to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission struck by South African President Nelson Mandela following the abolition of apartheid, to the current Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigating human rights abuses in the Canadian native residential school system, the Japanese Canadian redress continues to serve as an exemplary model for government reconciliation around the world.

Judge Maryka Omatsu's acceptance speech.

Judge Omatsu’s book, Bittersweet Passage: Redress and the Japanese Canadian Experience, won the Prime Minister’s Award for the Best Manuscript to be Translated and the Laura Jamieson Award for Best Feminist Book by a Canadian Author Which Advances Knowledge and/or Understanding of Women’s experience. Bittersweet Passage was also translated and published in Japan.

In 2007 Judge Omatsu played a key role in the founding of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, the Canadian NAPABA affiliate.

After sitting as a Judge in the Ontario Court of Justice (Provincial Division) for 20 years in Toronto, Judge Omatsu took early retirement and now divides her time between Vancouver and Toronto. Judge Omatsu currently enjoys a typical “retirement” for one of her energy—she continues to sit on a part time basis with the Ontario Court.


Lowell Chun Hoon

Lowell Chun Hoon is a labour lawyer practicing in Honolulu, Hawaii. Chun Hoon has worked consistently throughout his career as an advocate for the Asian American community, from his co-founding of the Amerasia Journal while an undergraduate student at Yale in 1970 and his co-authorship of the proposal that led to the first Asian American Studies Master of Arts degree in the United States, at UCLA in the mid-1970s.

Chun Hoon currently represents union members in workers compensation cases in a practice that includes broad collaboration with physicians and vocational counsellors working together toward the goal of the complete rehabilitation of injured workers.

In addition to his law practice, Chun Hoon has remained tireless in his public service and public interest legal activities for which he was recently awarded the Advocates for Public Interest Law Pick of the Year Award at the University of Hawaii.

The Honorable Lynn R. Nakamoto

In 2010, Judge Lynn R. Nakamoto became the first American of Asian decent to sit on an Oregon appellate court.

Prior to her tenure as a judge, Judge Nakamoto enjoyed a distinguished legal career spanning over two decades as a managing shareholder with a business and employment litigation practice in Portland, Oregon. Prior to her election to the court, Judge Nakamoto consistently maintained her dedication to legal aid work by serving as a staff member at a number of legal aid clinics dedicated to assisting low-income clients with civil matters.

Among her many community service credentials, Judge Nakamoto has served as Vice Chair of the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners, as chair of the Oregon State Bar Affirmative Action Committee and as a board member for the Portland chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. She is a founding member of the Oregon Minority Law Association and she continues to be active in local, minority, and state-wide bar associations.

Brian A. Sun

Brian Sun is a partner at the Los Angeles offices of Jones Day, specializing in complex business litigation. Sun is among a very small number of Asian American lawyers to be inducted as a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and has been named as one of “America’s top 500 lawyers” by Lawdragon Magazine, one of “America’s 100 Most Influential Minority Lawyers” by the National Law Journal, and as one of the “100 Most Influential Lawyers in California” by the Daily Journal.

Sun has previously served as the President of the Southern California Chinese Lawyers’ Association, President of the Asian Pacific Bar Association of California, President of the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank, as the President of NAPABA, and as Deputy General Counsel to the Christopher Commission which investigated the Rodney King incident.

Sun has also been honoured by numerous organizations for his dedication to community service, from the Los Angeles County Bar Association award naming Sun as the “Top Defense Attorney of the Year” to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Jewish Congress recognizing him for his work representing scientist Dr. Wen Ho Lee against claims by the U.S. government that he had conspired to share state secrets with the Chinese government.

Sun currently sits on the Inclusion Action Council for Burger King Corporation and is a member of the Committee of 100, an organization comprised of prominent Chinese Americans—among them I.M. Pei, Yo-Yo Ma, Michelle Kwan, and Jerry Yang, dedicated to fostering the interests and image of Chinese Americans.

The Honorable John M. Tran

On April 4, 2013, the Virginia General Assembly elected Judge John Tran to serve on the Circuit Court of Fairfax County, making Judge Tran the first Asian American judge to serve on a Virginia court of record and the first Vietnamese American judge in Virginia. Since the founding of Fairfax County in 1742, Judge Tran is only the 63rd Circuit Court judge to serve on the Fairfax Circuit Court Bench.

Judge Tran began life as the son of a South Vietnamese diplomat and an immigrant that found refuge in the United States. After spending his entire adult life in the Washington Metropolitan Area, Judge Tran proudly considers himself a Virginian.

Prior to his practice as a judge, Judge Tran was a top rated commercial litigation lawyer for which he received numerous accolades over the course of his career. In recalling his pre-judicial career, Judge Tran is quick to recall his 15+ years spent as a volunteer with a number of Asian American Bar Associations as being the source of some of his most fond career memories.

Presenters and Senator Daniel K. Inouye NAPABA Trailblazer Award winners. From left to right: NAPABA President Elect William J. Simonitsch, NAPABA President Wendy C. Shiba, Widow of Senator Daniel K. Inouye Irene Hirano, Lowell Chun-Hoon, Honorable Lynn R. Nakamoto, Honourable Justice Maryka Omatsu, Brian A. Sun, Honorable John M. Tran

© 2013 Chris Hope

Asian American california Canada daniel inouye hawaii judge Judge John Tran Judge Lynn R. Nakamoto Judge Maryka Omatsu Lowell Chun Hoon Maryka Omatsu NAPABA National Asian Pacific American Bar Association oregon Senator Daniel K. Inouye