CHICAGO – Associate Justice Kathryn Doi Todd (retired) is a recipient of the 2014 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award.
“We are honored to recognize a spectacular group of women. We applaud their achievements, knowing that their efforts will inspire a new generation of women lawyers,” says Bobbi Liebenberg, chair of the ABA Commission on Women, of this year’s Brent winners. Previous honorees include U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Doi Todd received the award, given annually by the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, on Aug. 10 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, during the ABA Annual Meeting.
Doi Todd spent the first three years of her life in a U.S. government internment camp with her parents and older brother. While she remembers little of the experience, her family spoke of the tragedy, and she says that “it was clear that the experience was degrading and invaded the psyche of each of us.”
Following undergraduate studies at Stanford University, Doi Todd worked part-time as a secretary at a law office in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. The experience of helping other Japanese Americans with their legal issues sparked a lifelong passion and inspired her to attend Loyola Law School.
Upon graduation, she opened an office in Little Tokyo; her brother joined her in 1976 after he graduated from law school. Practicing as one of only three Japanese American women lawyers in the Los Angeles area, Doi Todd became a trailblazer and role model for other aspiring Asian American women.
After seven years as an attorney, Doi Todd was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the Los Angeles Municipal Court, making her the first female Asian Pacific American justice in the United States. In her judicial role, she became a visible leader to aspiring women lawyers and judges and served as a more reflective example of the people of her courtroom.
In 1981, Brown elevated Doi Todd to the Los Angeles Superior Court. She remained on the trial court for 22 years. In 2000, she was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, where she served until her retirement in January 2013.
Doi Todd has mentored a legion of women and minorities to reach their goals in the legal profession and has encouraged other Asian American women to become lawyers and judges themselves. Starting early in her career, she mentored law students, young lawyers, and aspiring jurists.
She is a founding member of the Japanese American Bar Association, now a national organization committed to pursuing diversity in the judiciary. She is one of the founding members of the National Association of Women Judges, which aims to ensure equal justice and access to the courts for women, minorities, and other historically underrepresented groups. She also continues to provide pro bono work for ethnic nonprofit organizations in her community.
In addition to Todd, other winners of the award are Judge Nancy Gertner (retired), Stasia Kelly, Allie Latimer and Marissa Wesely.
The ABA Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, established in 1991, honors outstanding women lawyers who have achieved professional excellence in their area of specialty and have actively paved the way to success for others. The award is named for Margaret Brent, the first woman lawyer in America. Brent arrived in the colonies in 1638, and was involved in 124 court cases in more than eight years, winning every case. In 1648, she formally demanded a vote and voice in the Maryland Assembly, which the governor denied.
With nearly 400,000 members, the ABA is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, it works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.