In observance of APIDA Heritage Month, UW Law Library celebrates the accomplishments of members of the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American community in the legal profession.
Born in New Zealand to Samoan parents, Brenda Heather-Latu served as Crown Counsel for New Zealand before becoming Attorney General of Samoa. She is Samoa’s longest-serving Attorney General, holding that office from 1997 to 2006. Heather-Latu was bestowed the traditional title of Taulapapa in 2015, a title also held by her grandfather and uncle. She is currently in private practice in Apia, Samoa, specializing in commercial law, and consults across the Pacific region on trade and environmental matters.
Photo Credit: Strategic Development Group
Dalip Singh Saund
Dalip Singh Saund was a member of the United States House of Representatives, serving the 29th District of California from 1957 to 1963. He was the first Sikh American, Asian American and Indian American elected to Congress. Born and raised in India, he came to America to do graduate work at University of California. A farmer and distributor of chemical fertilizer for over 20 years, he was elected to the House of Representatives with strong support from farmers and the business community. As a congressperson, he was a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and secured funding for many agricultural and development projects in his district.
Summer Kupau-Odo was appointed a District Court Judge of the First Circuit of Hawaii in 2018. She grew up in Lahaina, Maui, and obtained her B.A. from Pepperdine University before returning to Hawai’i to attend the William S. Richardson School of Law. Prior to being appointed to the judiciary, Kupau-Odo worked in the areas of Native Hawaiian and environmental rights as Co-Litigation Director for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, and as a senior associate attorney at Earthjustice. She also served as a Deputy Public Defender for eight years.
Photo Credit: William S. Richardson School of Law
After his service in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II, Daniel Inouye attended and graduated from Harvard Law. He was admitted to the bar in 1953 and served for several years as a public prosecutor. His landslide election to Hawaii’s lone U.S. House seat made him the first Japanese-American Member of Congress, and in 1962 he also became the first Japanese-American Senator. From 1959, when Hawaii first gained statehood, to 2012, when he passed away, there was not a single year of those fifty-three when Daniel Inouye did not represent his state in Washington.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia (United States Congress)
Kashoua Kristy Yang
Kashoua Kristy Yang, a 2009 graduate of the UW Law School, was elected to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 2017, making her the first Hmong American judge elected without appointment, and the first Hmong American woman to become a judge. Before her election, Yang worked as a family law mediator, as well as concentrating on worker’s compensation and social security disability. Yang has often spoken of how her childhood experience as a refugee has informed her decision to enter law and her career as a lawyer and judge.
Glenn Yamahiro earned his J.D. from the University of Wisconsin in the UW Law School Class of 1991. After his graduation, he served for four years with the public defender’s office before forming a law partnership with two other former public defenders. He was first appointed to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court by Gov. Jim Doyle in 2003, replacing Jacqueline Schellinger and making Yamahiro the first Asian-American judge in Wisconsin history. He was subsequently re-elected in 2004, 2010, and 2016, and is still serving.
Photo Credit: UW Law School Digital Repository
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1941, Herbert Choy was the first Korean-American to be admitted to the bar. In World War II, Choy served part of his six years as a member of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. After the war, he went into private practice for several years before serving as the Attorney General of the Territory of Hawaii. He was nominated to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1971 by President Nixon, becoming the first Asian American to serve on a federal bench. He assumed senior status in 1984, and continued to serve until his death in 2004.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia (United States Department of Justice)
Patricia A. Yim Cowett
The first Chinese American female judge in California, Patricia Yim Cowett served over 30 years on the bench. She received her law degree from the UC Davis School of Law, and began her judicial career in 1979 after being appointed to the San Diego Municipal Court. Judge Cowett succeeded to the Superior Court in 1998. She was the second of only two women to serve as the Presiding Judge of the San Diego Municipal Court (1991) and helped establish the specialized criminal domestic violence court.
Photo Credit: Giving Back Magazine
Zainab Ahmad is a prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice. The child of Pakistani immigrants, Ahmad received her J.D. from Columbia Law School in 2005. As a prosecutor, her specialization is counterterrorism, and she has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Europe to investigate and prosecute extraterritorial terrorism cases for the Department of Justice. In 2013 Ahmad was named a deputy chief of the national security and cybercrime section of the the Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office, and in 2017 she joined Robert Mueller’s special counsel office to investigate the 2016 elections.
Hong Yen Chang
Hong Yen Chang, an 1886 graduate of Columbia Law School, was refused a law license in California due to the the federal Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred him from citizenship. Though he was later admitted to the New York Bar through a special act of the New York State Legislature, making him first Chinese immigrant to be admitted to the Bar in the United States, it was not until 2015, 125 years after his first application, that the California Supreme Court awarded him a posthumous law license in California. His great-grandniece, Rochelle Chong, is an attorney who served for three years as a Commissioner of the FCC.
Photo Credit: NPR (AP/Ah Tye Family)