Sandra Otaka: 1952-2009

Monday, June 08, 2009

I didn't know Sandra Otaka, but as I read about her story that I'm sure can't do justice to everything she accomplished, or the barriers that she helped open, I really do wish I had gotten a chance to at least have met her.

When a Cook County judge launched a racist rant against the Japanese from the bench of his Rolling Meadows courtroom in 1989, Sandra Otaka spearheaded the campaign to have him removed. A year later, voters dumped Judge Gerald Murphy from public office. Two years later, she helped get Lynne Kawamoto appointed as the county's first Asian-American associate judge.

But it took another decade for Judge Otaka, a staunch defender of her community, to become the first Asian-American to be elected a Cook County judge. Appointed to the bench by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2000, she became only the second Asian-American to be elected a judge by Illinois voters when in 2002 she was retained as a Child Protection Division judge, hearing abuse and neglect cases [...]

Born in California, she was a third-generation Japanese-American. Her mother and grandparents were held in U.S. internment camps during World War II. Politically active as a young woman, she campaigned against the Vietnam War, traveled and worked as a waitress before enrolling as an undergraduate at the University of California in Berkeley at age 28.

While at Berkeley, she volunteered as a legal clerk with an Asian-American law firm, where she worked to overturn the conviction of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American shipyard worker jailed in 1944 for failing to report to an internment camp.
Read more about her.