Longtime community leader Rose M. Ochi was among 20 individuals from the Los Angeles legal community honored with an exhibit, a public film premiere (“Overcoming Adversity: Real Stories”) and a reception at the Los Angeles Law Library on Dec. 15.
All of the honorees appearing in the film were nominated and selected by a committee of legal professionals and officials from the L.A. Law Library as part of its “Opening the Door: Personal Stories of Groundbreaking Los Angeles Lawyers, Judges and Legal Professionals” project.
The 2016 honorees were lawyers, judges and other legal professionals in California who have achieved extraordinary success in their field despite obstacles such as race, gender, socioeconomic barriers and disability.
The “Overcoming Adversity” exhibit at the library contains personal artifacts, letters, photographs and other objects that illustrate the honorees’ individual commitment to excellence and serve as visual inspiration to the public.
The project goal is to tell groundbreaking stories of lawyers, judges and other legal professionals in order to inspire others, especially students from local at-risk schools, to set and achieve ambitious professional and personal goals.
The honorees include:
• Tani Cantil-Sakauye, chief justice of the California Supreme Court
• Cyndie M. Chang, president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association
• Ireneo A. Reus III, board member of the Philippine American Bar Association
• Betty Jing Boyd of the Law Office of Betty J. Boyd
Also honored were Judge Craig Barnes, Yolanda M. Barrera, Martha A. Carillo, Tamiko B. Herron, District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Judge Luis Lavin, Richard Lewis, Selma Moidel Smith, Judge Dorothy W. Nelson, Lee Paige, Bobby Rimas, Luis Rodriguez, Judge Deborah L. Sanchez, Janeen Steele and Sylvia Torres-Guillen.
Rose Ochi’s Accomplishments
West Covina City Councilmember James Toma, former president of the Japanese American Bar Association, nominated Ochi, citing the following accomplishments:
Ochi was the first woman of color on the Los Angeles County Bar Board of Trustees. She engineered the selection of Judge Bernard Jefferson to receive the prestigious Shattuck Price Award; organized the Japanese American Bar Association; and organized the Minority Bar to encourage minority involvement in the legal profession. While urging the Governor’s Office to elevate Judges Jefferson and Robert Takasugi, she turned down a judicial appointment because it would stifle her community advocacy efforts.
As pro bono lawyer for Sue Kunitomi Embrey, chair of the Manzanar Committee, Ochi championed Los Angeles City Council passage, secured the mayor’s support, and testified in Congress to pass legislation to create the Manzanar National Historic Site. Since its opening, over a million visitors have learned how the nation made an egregious mistake in depriving some110,000 persons, 60 percent of whom were American citizens, of their constitutional rights.
Due to her reputation for courage and toughness in challenging the notorious Police Chief Ed Davis, she was appointed to President Jimmy Carter’s Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy (SCIRP). She served alongside Judge Cruz Reynoso and key U.S. senators, House members, and Cabinet members, and became a strong voice for fair and smart policies.
After SCIRP, Ochi was recruited to assist the redress campaign for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. As the federal Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was forming, Ochi called on Chairperson Joan Bernstein to hire Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, whose key archival research proving the lack of military necessity for the government’s actions was critical for the coram nobis court cases of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Min Yasui and the passage of redress legislation.
She asked Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, to select a member from a safe district to champion redress. That member was Rep. Barney Frank D-Mass.). She called upon Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) to push his colleagues in the senate for redress. For her efforts, Ochi was invited to the historic signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 at the White House, where President Ronald Reagan acknowledged her key role.
In the Clinton Administration, Ochi was appointed associate director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. She headed state and local affairs and oversaw the High Intensity Trafficking Area (HIDTA) model program, where she successfully advocated Congress to fund 10 additional sites, including Los Angeles.
President Bill Clinton then appointed Ochi as director of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Community Relation Service (CRS), the federal government’s race relations arm. The first Asian American woman assistant attorney general, she was later presented with the Exceptional Service Award by Attorney General Janet Reno.
Last year, Ochi was invited to speak at the DOJ’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, where she chronicled CRS’ role in combating black church arson, hate crimes and racial profiling, and in supporting Clinton’s Initiative on Race.
Upon her return to Los Angeles, Mayor James Hahn asked Ochi to be president of the Police Commission. She declined but accepted the role of vice chair, becoming the first Asian American woman commissioner. She worked to change major policies, including the discipline system and the compressed work schedule.
Ochi also worked on creating a unique Los Angeles Regional Crime Laboratory Partnership and served as the director of the California Forensic Science Institute.