Thursday, August 6, 2009
Senior U.S. District Judge Takasugi Dies at 78
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Senior U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi of the Central District of California, the first Japanese American to serve on the federal bench, has died at age 78.
Takasugi, who served on federal and state benches for 36 years, died Tuesday after suffering from “a number of malaises” over the past year, Asian Pacific Bar of California President Edwin Prather—who served as Takasugi’s legal clerk from 1997-98—said.
The judge was named to the District Court by then-President Gerald Ford in 1976 and took senior status in 1996.
Prather called Takasugi “a judge who was truly dedicated to equal access to justice and to ensuring that justice was received in every thing.”
Born in Tacoma, Wash., Takasugi was moved with his family from their home in 1942 and interned for three years in the Japanese Interment Camp at Tule Lake, Calif.
Reportedly describing the ordeal as “an education to be fair,” Takasugi went on to graduate from UCLA and served as a corporal in the U.S. Army from 1953-55, where he was a criminal investigator. In 1954 he received the U.S. military’s “Man of the Year” award for the Far East Theatre.
Takasugi later attended USC Law School, and after earning admission to the State Bar in 1960 entered private practice with Carlos Velarde, who later became a Los Angeles Superior Court judge and a State Bar Court judge. Takasugi also served as a hearing examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission from 1962-65.
Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed Takasugi, a Democrat, to the East Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1973, and Takasugi became the court’s presiding judge in 1975.
He was appointed to the Los Angeles Superior Court later that year by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, but served less than one year before being tapped to join the District Court.
Described by the Los Angeles Times as a jurist who “swims against the national tide,” Takasugi in 2002 gained national media attention when he dismissed several indictments against Iranian and Iranian American defendants alleged to be members of a cell of the Moujahedeen Khalq, a group seeking to overthrow the current Iranian government.
The defendants challenged the government’s unilateral characterization of the group as a terrorist organization, and Takasugi ruled that the government’s procedure for doing so was unconstitutional because the classification was made without due process of law.
“When weighed against a fundamental constitutional right which defines our very existence, the argument for national security should not serve as an excuse for obliterating the Constitution,” he opined.
Prather commented that merely calling Takasugi “intelligent” did not give the jurist justice.
“He really was a legal genius,” Prather said. “He carried himself in his work at such a high level, and demanded that other people raise their game to meet him there.”
Noting Takasugi’s experience in the internment camp, Prather also remarked that Takasugi “really fought for those that could not fight for themselves so that no one would suffer the things he suffered.”
Asian Law Caucus
Takasugi mentored founders of the Asian Law Caucus, who in the early 1980s battled to vindicate Japanese Americans interned during World War II. He is also the namesake of the Robert M. Takasugi Public Interest Fellowship, which was created in 1999 by members of the legal community to honor him and “to perpetuate his influence, independence, courage, vision of equal justice and demand that women and minorities be accorded equal treatment.”
During the course of his legal career, Takasugi was honored by numerous groups, including the American Bar Association, the Mexican Bar Association, the Filipino Bar Association, the Japanese American Bar Association, the Korean American Youth Foundation, the Criminal Courts Bar Association, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
He is survived by his wife, Dorothy; his daughter Leslie; his son, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jon Takasugi; his daughter-in-law Haydeh; and his grandchildren, Kinuyo and Matthew Takasugi.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company