Monday, June 10, 2019
By a MetNews Staff Writer
DAN T. OKI
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge
Dan T. Oki has retired as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, but is still hearing cases as a participant in the Assigned Judges Program, the MetNews has learned.
Oki, without fanfare, retired on Jan. 31 after 26½ years on the municipal and superior courts and, it appears, there is scant awareness among colleagues or lawyers that he is now an assigned judge.
“I still enjoy serving the courts when I can be of assistance, and continuing to work alongside the many friends I made on the bench before retiring,” he said late Thursday. “I’m currently sitting in a traffic court assignment, and will then spend a couple of weeks in a criminal assignment.”
Sitting some weeks, and not sitting others, he related, enables him and his wife, Mary M. Oki, to spend more time with family members—including grandchildren—in Sacramento and San Francisco.
“We are also traveling while we are still young and healthy enough to enjoy it, which fits in with my hobby of photography,” Oki, 67, said. “We are currently planning a trip later this year to Peru…, then on to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.”
After 15 years of private practice in West Covina and Covina, Oki was appointed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson to the Citrus Municipal Court, where he served from May 1992 to March 1997, holding the post of presiding judge in 1993 and 1994. Wilson then elevated him to the Superior Court where he was supervising judge of the East District from 1998-2001 and supervising judge of the Criminal Division from July 2001 to July 2003.
In the latter role, controversy arose after he ordered that arraignments of in-custody defendants stop at 4:30 p.m., in conformity with a court no-overtime policy. He later explained that he had expected the defendants to be rearrested as they left the courtroom, as customarily occurred in such circumstances.
They weren’t, and one defendant who was released proceeded to commit a murder. Many saw Oki as a victim of a sensationalized attack by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys which, in an ad placed by then-ADDA President Steve Ipsen, sought to affix blame for the slaying on Oki.
(Ipsen was later fired from the District Attorney’s Office for misconduct unrelated to ADDA activities.)
The ad solicited attorneys to run against Oki, as well as the assistant supervising criminal courts judge, David Wesley. The recruitment effort succeeded, with both judges drawing opponents in 2004, but each attracting widespread support within the legal community and beyond.
In the March 29 primary, Oki beat off a challenge by two deputy district attorneys and a private practitioner, garnering 56.6 percent of the vote. Wesley—later the court’s presiding judge, now retired—also prevailed in a bout with three rivals.
Although Oki won in county-wide balloting in 2004, the events derailed the prospect of his being a candidate that year for assistant presiding judge, which earlier had been anticipated. Oki did seek that post in 2012, but lost to Judge Carolyn Kuhl in a contest marked by unusually spirited campaigning by the candidates’ respective supporters.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in 2011, in response to assaults on operations of the Administrative Office of the Courts (“AOC”), principally by the Alliance of California Judges, appointed a Strategic Evaluation Committee (“SEC”) to look into the criticisms. In a July 12, 2012, letter to Cantil-Sakauye, the Judicial Council, and the chair of the committee, Oki responded to a request for comments on a report by the SEC which called for closer Judicial Council scrutiny of, and exercise of controls over, the AOC.
“Respectfully, the time for additional committees, reports, and surveys is over. The time for positive action to implement the recommendations is now.”
“The criticisms and shortcomings of the AOC which are noted in the SEC report, and which have been allowed to exist for years, have resulted in the current atmosphere of mistrust and division not only within the Judicial Branch, but that has now spilled over to the Legislative and Executive Branches of state government, the media, and to the public in general. You, as our current Chief Justice and the honorable members of the Judicial Council now have within your immediate grasp the ability and, through the SEC recommendations, the blueprint to restore public trust and confidence, and transparency, to the California judiciary. The need to do so without delay is urgent.”
The upshot of criticisms was that the words “Administrative Office of the Courts” were abandoned, and AOC functions became those of the Judicial Council’s staff.
“Some of my fondest memories of service on the Superior Court were helping to guide the court through some monumental changes,” he said Thursday, recounting:
“I supervised the East District during the implementation of One Trial jury service. Along with Pasadena, we were the first district in the county to do so. There was tremendous confusion at first, and many jurors were of the belief that jury service was just one day, even if they were selected to sit on a trial. In Pasadena, supervising judge Tom Stoever had to post a bailiff in the jury assembly room to keep the peace.”
Oki noted that he supervised the East District at the time of the unification of the municipal and superior courts in 2000 and, he said, he “suddenly became responsible for the operation of four courthouses rather than one.” He was supervising the Criminal Division when the “9/11” attacks were made on Sept. 11, 2001, and, he related, he “implemented case management procedures to prevent nearly all trials from trailing until the last possible day to commence.”
State Court Funding
He added that his supervision of the criminal courts came “during a very challenging budget period resulting from the shift from county to state-funded courts, which required the first layoffs of employees in the history of the Superior Court,” noting:
“We were fortunate, however, to find employment with the county for virtually all of the employees who were required to be laid off.”
Oki hailed “the wonderful colleagues” he “had the privilege of serving with for more than 26 years,” commenting:
“One could not hope to find a better group of wise, intelligent, congenial and dedicated public servants. I will miss them all.”
Oki received his law degree from Loyola in 1977, and was on the Dean’s List throughout law school.
In 1995, Judicial Council of California awarded him Ralph M. Kleps Award for Innovation in the Administration of Justice based on the Domestic Violence Courtroom Project he instituted in the Citrus Municipal Court, and that same year, the Board of Supervisors presented him with a commendation based on that program.
The board bestowed another commendation on him in 2003 for dedicated public service as a judge to all residents of Los Angeles County.
Even after joining the Superior Court, he chaired the municipal courts’ Presiding Judges Association of Los Angeles County in 1997.
Oki was a member of the California Judges Association Executive Board from 2005-08, and president of the California Judges Foundation in 2009 and 2010.
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