Monday, April 15, 2002
Davis Names Three to Los Angeles Superior Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Gov. Gray Davis Friday named Torrance attorney Vincent H. Okamoto, Deputy District Attorney Charles Q. Clay III, and Los Angeles Assistant City Attorney Mary Strobel as judges of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Okamoto, 58, is a partner in the law firm of Okamoto, Wasserman & Torii, where his practice emphasizes financial consultation, transactional matters and civil litigation.
A graduate of USC and its law school, he spent the first five years of his legal career in the District Attorney’s Office prosecuting misdemeanor and felony cases, including 11 murder trials in adult or juvenile court.
He then spent eight years practicing business and corporate law, family law, personal injury and criminal law until 1986, when he became the founding chairman and chief executive officer of Pacific Heritage Bank.
The bank, which he left in 1995, became one of the largest minority-controlled financial institutions in the United States.
While a deputy district attorney, he ran for and was elected to the Gardena City Council, serving one term. He is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, having served in the infantry and been discharged with the rank of captain.
The Governor’s Office, in announcing the appointment, noted that he had been injured three times in combat and was “the highest decorated Japanese American to survive the War.” He is president of the Japanese American Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee and has served on the board of the Japanese American Bar Association.
Okamoto said Friday he was looking forward to serving, but did not no when he will take the bench. It will take some amount of time to close out his practice, he said.
He applied for the bench, he told the MetNews, because he was looking for an opportunity to put his long legal experience to the public good without being engaged in the political process, which he said he found “distasteful.”
The judge-designate said he “hated” his service as a councilman. “Dialing for [campaign] dollars” and “hurting people who didn’t deserve to be hurt” were worse than combat, he said.
As a judge, at least, he will be part of a process that he understands, he said.
Local politics “was like Vietnam…you didn’t know what it was like until you got there,” he explained. “ I know my way around the courtroom.”
Okamoto will fill the vacancy created last May by the retirement of Judge Richard Kalustian.
Clay, 38, said he expects to be sworn in next week and hopes to obtain a criminal assignment. He was admitted to practice in 1990 and has been a prosecutor since 1994.
The San Diego native worked in television news as a writer and segment producer before beginning his legal career. He has prosecuted a broad range of felony and misdemeanor criminal cases and is currently assigned to juvenile court in Long Beach.
He previously spent two years in the Justice System Integrity Division, where he handled investigations and prosecutions of wrongdoing by government officials and police officers.
Judicial service, Clay said, is “something that I’ve always wanted to do.” He added that he saw no benefit in waiting to apply because prosecution “was not something I thought I was going to get better at with age.”
Clay, who practiced with several civil firms after graduating from Boalt Hall—he was a USC undergraduate—said he became a prosecutor because he was drawn to trial work and public service. “I was seduced by the higher salaries in the private sector,” he commented, before deciding that “making the streets safer” was more rewarding.
As a civil attorney, he earned the State Bar’s Wiley Manuel Award for his pro bono work with Bet Tzedek Legal Services and Public Counsel.
His professional affiliations include the National Association of Black Prosecutors, the John M. Langston Bar Association, and the Constitutional Rights Foundation, where has served as an attorney-coach for the mock trial competition.
Clay will fill the vacancy created by the retirement last May of Judge Arnold Gold.
Strobel, 45, serves in the General Counsel Division of the City Attorney’s Office. She joined that office three years ago after serving as staff counsel to the Appointed Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission and as one of the principal drafters of the revised City Charter adopted by the voters in June 1999.
She previously worked in the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office from 1985 to 1997; first, as a litigator in the Municipal Law Division and, later, as the chief land use and planning attorney for the city. From 1983 to 1985, she was a litigation associate with the law firm of Mitchell, Silverberg and Knupp.
Strobel said she expects to be sworn in within a month, and would be happy to serve “wherever they want to send me.”
Appointment to the bench “was a goal of mine for a long time.” She will miss municipal law, she said, after having “worked in some wonderful offices” and “done some exciting work,” particularly on charter reform.
Strobel is a graduate of the University of Illinois and of USC Law School. She is married to Century City lawyer David M. Marcus, a candidate for the State Bar Board of Governors.
The timing of her swearing-in could affect her ability to vote for him, since members of the judiciary are not members of the State Bar and cannot participate in the board elections. “Don’t tell my husband,” she quipped.
She will fill the vacancy created last May by the retirement of Judge Kenneth Chotiner.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company