Sei Fujii’s Admission to State Bar Celebrated

0

Pictured at the Sei Fujii Memorial Lantern in Little Tokyo’s Japanese Village Plaza are (from left) LTHS director Jeffrey Gee Chin; Sidney Kanazawa of McGuire Woods LLP, who worked on the petition for Fujii’s posthumous admission to the State Bar; Adam Engelskirchen, attorney and great-grandson of J. Marion Wright, Fujii’s law partner; Coralie Kupfer, daughter of attorney Owen Kuupfer, who worked with Wright and Fujii on the victorious U.S. Supreme Court case in 1928 that permitted the construction of the Boyle Heights-based Japanese Hospital of Los Angeles and the overturning of the California Alien Land Laws; and LTHS director Fumiko Carole Fujita.

Sei Fujii (1882-1954)

The California Supreme Court unanimously granted Sei Fujii honorary posthumous membership in the State Bar of California on May 24, 2017. Led by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the high court declared, “despite being formally excluded from joining the ranks of the legal profession throughout his life, Fujii spent much of his career using the courts to advance the rule of law in California.”

Sei Fujii, a University of Southern California Law School graduate in 1911, was denied State Bar of California membership and could not become a licensed attorney because he was not an American citizen. Discriminatory laws at that time prohibited all Asians from becoming U.S. naturalized citizens. Undeterred, he teamed with J. Marion Wright, USC classmate and civil rights attorney, to help Japanese immigrants and the community with legal services for forty years. His most significant legal victory was in 1952 in Fujii v. California when the California Supreme Court invalidated the California Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920 that had prohibited Japanese farmers from owning agricultural property or contracting long-term leases.

The USC Asian Pacific Alumni Association presenting a certificate to attorneys who worked pro bono on the petition. From left: Nicole Stark, director of alumni relations at USC Gould School of Law, Grace Shiba, attorney Arsen Kourinian, attorney Kim Nakamaru, attorney Sidney Kanazawa, Ada Yeh.

The Japanese American Bar Association and the Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS) jointly filed the petition with the California Supreme Court on January 23, 2017 with pro bono attorneys Sidney Kanazawa and Kim Nakamaru of the legal firm of McGuireWoods LLP and Jeffrey Gee Chin and Carole Fujita, directors of LTHS, being the primary participants.

To commemorate this major achievement, LTHS sponsored a celebration with food and champagne for toasts at the Far Bar in Little Tokyo on Aug. 13. Primary speakers were attorney Kanazawa, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Bruce G. Iwasaki, actor Chris Tashima, and film director Chin. Distinguished guests included San Francisco attorney Adam Engelskirchen, great-grandson of J. Marion Wright, and attorney Coralie Kupfer, daughter of attorney Owen Kupfer, who worked with Wright and Fujii on the victorious U.S. Supreme Court case in 1928 that permitted the construction of the Boyle Heights-based Japanese Hospital of Los Angeles and the overturning of the California Alien Land Laws.

USC alumni and attorneys: (front row, from left) Yukio Kawaratani, Mike Okamura, Kim Nakamaru, Carole Fujita, Coralie Kupfer; (middle row, from left) George Shaw, Tadashi Kowta, Arsen Kourinian, Jeffrey Gee Chin, Lindsey Sugimoto; (back row, from left) Sidney Kanazawa, Adam Engelskirchen.

Tashima played Fujii in “Lil Tokyo Reporter,” a film produced by LTHS to educate the public about Fujii’s accomplishments, which were not widely known even within the Japanese American community.

Receiving honorary posthumous membership in the State Bar of California was Sei Fujii’s final legal victory.

Tags

Share.

Leave A Reply