Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Services Set for Retired Judge Wong
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Services will be held Thursday for retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Delbert E. Wong, who died Friday at age 85.
When Wong was named to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1959 by then-Gov. Pat Brown, he became the first Chinese American appointed to the bench in the continental United States. Before that time, the only such jurists had been in the Territory of Hawaii.
Brown elevated Wong to the Superior Court in 1961, and the judge retired in 1982. After retiring, he worked as a private judge.
Wong’s son, Kent Wong, said the judge died Friday evening at Glendale Memorial Hospital after suffering a heart attack at his Silver Lake home. Kent Wong is director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education.
A World War II veteran who completed 30 bombing missions as a B-17 Flying Fortress navigator, Delbert Wong graduated from Stanford Law School in 1949. He attended junior college in Bakersfield, where he grew up, before earning his undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley.
Wong served as a deputy attorney general from 1952 until his appointment to the bench. He joined the office while Brown was attorney general.
“He was not only a good friend, but an inspiration to the community and to lawyers throughout the country,” Stewart Kwoh, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, said. “He was really a role model.”
Wong was a leading financial supporter of the center.
While serving in the Superior Court’s Appellate Department, Wong was part of a panel that ruled in 1969 that a college student had a constitutional right to wear a jacket with an expletive about the draft in a Los Angeles courthouse while observing the trial of a fellow antiwar protester. The student had been convicted in municipal court of disturbing the peace and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
The conviction was reinstated by this district’s Court of Appeal, but the case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 in Cohen v. California (1971) 403 U.S. 15 that the Appellate Division’s interpretation of the constitutional free speech guarantee was correct. The ruling remains a staple of free speech jurisprudence taught in law school courses.
After his retirement, Wong took on special projects. In 1986, he investigated allegations of racial discrimination for the Department of Airports, resulting in changes in the agency’s promotional practices.
In 1987 Wong played the role of a judge on the television program “Superior Court.”
Wong is survived by his wife Dolores, his sons Kent, Duane and Marshall, his daughter Shelley Wong Pitts, and three grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at the Hollywood Hills Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Family members have requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations in Wong’s memory be made to the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Chinatown Service Center, or the Chinese American Museum.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company