On April 17, the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association (SCCLA) will celebrate its Forty Fourth Anniversary at a dinner at the Bonaventure Hotel.
This is a significant event in our community and in the state. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. My parents were immigrants from China and came to the United States in the 1920s. At that time, the only opportunity for immigrants from China and other parts of the world to make a living was to establish their own businesses unless they wanted to work in menial jobs for low wages. My father, like several of his friends and relatives, established a wholesale produce businesses in what is now known as City Market. He was successful and my family which included my mother and seven children survived and prosper.
Not many of us in our Chinese American community thought of law as a career -- medicine and engineering yes, but not law. When I graduated from UCLA School of Law in 1969, there was only a handful of Chinese-American lawyers in Los Angeles. I probably knew all 10 or so of them. Among them were such recognized and notable lawyers as Y.C. Hong, the first Chinese American lawyer in the United States, Delbert Wong, the first Chinese American judge in the United States, excluding the territory of Hawaii before statehood, Nowland C. Hong, Albert C. Lum and Hiram Kwan.
In 1975, I became a Los Angeles Municipal Court judge; the second Chinese American judge to be appointed in Los Angeles and the fourth in the history of the California. My good friend Arthur Gilbert was appointed the same day by Gov. Jerry Brown I. (Justice Gilbert predicted during the first week of our judgeship that we would one day be on the appellate court. I scoffed at his prediction. Yet, in 1981, I became the first Chinese-American appointed to the appellate courts in California and Justice Gilbert followed close behind the next year. His prediction years ago revealed his powers of prophesy.) Very early in our judicial careers, Judge Gilbert and I, together with the late Judge Loren Miller, helped a small core of Chinese-American lawyers, which included, Nowland Hong and Albert Lum, to start SCCLA at an organizing meeting in Chinatown on Gin Ling Way at the Grand Star Restaurant.
At that time, there were not enough Chinese-American lawyers to form a group large enough to obtain status at the Los Angeles County Bar Association and State Bar annual meeting. So we needed Judges Gilbert and Miller to help "beef up" the organization. Justice Gilbert was all for it. He went to many meetings and participated in the annual dinners. Look at SCCLA today, its membership approaches 1,000 members, including my two sons.
I fear that most of the current SCCLA members have no idea of the identity of its Founding Fathers, which include Judges Gilbert and Miller. It is time that they be recognized. While it is too late to recognize Judge Miller as he has passed on, it is time for us to recognize Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert in his true status as a SCCLA Founding Father. SCCLA will give Justice Gilbert his due on April 17th at its Anniversary Dinner and he deserves to be properly recognized. Congratulations Justice Gilbert or should we say, "Well Done Arthur." Justice Gilbert's intellect is well known -- he may even deliver his acceptance speech in Mandarin.