Female lawyers and judges share the secrets to their success

By Jocelyn Chiu
Northwest Asian Weekly

The Women of Color Empowered honorees with master of ceremonies Bobbe Bridge (far left) (Photo by Rebecca Ip/SCP)

When the first woman received her license to practice law 120 years ago, society was in awe.  Nowadays, when women become successful in the justice system, people acknowledge their contributions with rounds of applause.

On May 14, 15 women were honored at the Women of Color Empowered luncheon at the China Harbor restaurant in Seattle.   Facing a view of Lake Union under a clear blue sky, these women shared their journeys in law.

Aspirations

Having practiced law in King County for 20 years with an emphasis on family law, immigration litigation, and criminal defense, lawyer Susan Amini is now serving as judge pro tempore in King County District Court. She said, “I still believe the court today needs the similar experience that I have.  That’s why I continue to serve the bench.”

Lawyer Moni Law produced a documentary film, “Female Faces of War,” after the start of the Iraq war in 2003.  “I want to give voice to the voiceless.  I still cry every time I watch it,” Law said.

Chief judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis, who devotes her career to the area of tribal law and jurisprudence, said, “I spend time with family and use the degree of social work and traditional law methods to work with families to solve problems.”

Power of the community

Speaking of her responsibilities as an attorney, Jenny Durkan said that it is her job to keep people safe. She then asked attendees to stand up if they thought they could make a change. The whole crowd stood up. “This is the power of the community, this is what keeps us safe,” Durkan said.

Specializing in taxation, business and estate tax planning, and probate matters, law firm partner Gloria Lung Wakayama said, “I help people with my special legal training. In my life, I’ve been helped in many ways. It takes a village to raise a child, it takes all of us to make a better community.”

Kellye Testy, the first woman to join the group of permanent law school deans at the University of Washington, believes feminist power is one of the most important elements in the community. Though not able to attend the event because of her daughter’s graduation, Testy passed on a quote from Madeleine Albright to the crowd, “Let’s us be good to each other. There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Inspirations

Lorraine Bannai, professor of law at Seattle University, loves the collaborative work in the field.  “I’m inspired by young people wanting to work in the name of social justice and equality,” said Bannai.

Senior managing attorney Barbara Harris said her motivation came from the volunteers she works with.

“When they show up saying we’re here and we’re ready to serve, we’ve got your back. To me, that’s not insignificant,” Harris said.

Keys to success

Once a schoolteacher, attorney Lourdes Fuentes told people to remember their ABCs. “A is absolutely be true to yourself and define what success is by yourself.  B is to believe in yourself, follow your heart and live your aspiration. C is to care for yourself. We women do not care enough for ourselves,” Fuentes said.

Law firm managing director Sheryl Willert wakes up every day with the same motto in mind. “Get up and have a sense of purpose that is greater than personal success.  Do your best, be inquisitive, stay true to your ethics, keep you sense of humor, and have balance,” she said.

King County superior court judge Mary Yu, who was appointed by Gov. Gary Locke in 2000, said, “Maintain relationships and really embrace forgiveness. Pay it forward and invest in young people.”

Family support

Tulalip Tribal court associate judge Theresa Pouley inherited the values of Native American women. “I stand here with all of my grandmothers.  It’s the job of Indian women to identify what people’s strengths are and encourage them on what they can achieve,” Pouley said.

Sharon Sakamoto, law firm partner, thanked her family for providing her with the best education and environment possible.  “My parents created a home for me that is filled with love. It keeps me wanting for others as my parents wanted for us,” she said.

Setting examples

King County superior court judge Mariane Spearman has been a judge for 15 years. “People coming to the courthouse are curious about me.  I feel the pressure to do well, to do my job. I want people to follow me,” Spearman said.

Lam Nguyen-Bull, president of the Vietnamese American Bar Association of Washington, said women are all “game changers.” Having lived in different cities and worked in different fields, Nguyen-Bull said, “Everything I’ve done in my law career is outside my expertise. I’ve played the game, changing the game.” ♦

Jocelyn Chui can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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