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National Asian Pacific American Bar Association  

1612 K Street. N.W., Suite 1400
Washington, D.C. 20006

November 12, 2007

Contact: Les Jin
(202) 775-9555


Washington , D.C. – The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) announces the 2007 recipients of NAPABA’s highest honor, the NAPABA Trailblazer Award, at its 19 th Annual Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Trailblazer Award recognizes the outstanding achievements, commitment, and leadership of NAPABA lawyers who have paved the way for the advancement of other Asian Pacific American attorneys. As part of its annual convention, NAPABA honors a member from each region who meets these criteria. The honorees are selected by the regional governors and the affiliates in their region.  Thus, the paths and achievements of the awardees are often very different. However, they have all demonstrated vision, courage, and tenacity in their careers, making substantial and lasting contributions to both the Asian Pacific American legal community and the broader Asian Pacific American community.  For their extraordinary accomplishments and for serving as role models that inspire other Asian Pacific American lawyers, NAPABA honors these trailblazers:

  • Victor M. Hwang – California Northern Region
  • Hon. Michael J. Watanabe – Southwest Region
  • Hon. Mike K. Nakagawa – California Eastern Region
  • Frank H. Wu – Central Region
  • Neal Kumar Katyal – Southeast Region
  • Hon. Fernande R.V. Duffly – Northeast Region
  • Alan T. Murakami – Northwest Region
  • Jerrilyn T. Malana – California Southern Region
  • Rita Gunasekaran – California Central Region

Biographies of the awardees follow this press release.


The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) is the national association of Asian Pacific American attorneys, judges, law professors and law students.  NAPABA represents the interests of over 40,000 attorneys and 50 local Asian Pacific American bar associations.  Its members represent solo practitioners, large firm lawyers, corporate counsel, legal service and non-profit attorneys, and lawyers serving at all levels of government.  NAPABA continues to be a leader in addressing civil rights issues confronting Asian Pacific American communities.  Through its national network of committees and affiliates, NAPABA provides a strong voice for increased diversity of federal and state judiciaries, advocates for equal opportunity in the workplace, works to eliminate hate crimes and anti-immigrant sentiment, and promotes professional development of minorities in the legal profession.

2007 NAPABA Trailblazer Award Recipients

Victor M. Hwang
California Northern Region

Victor M. Hwang is currently the managing attorney of Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, a social justice law firm.  While at API Legal Outreach, Mr. Hwang served as counsel to Eddy Zheng, a political prisoner facing deportation and drafted an amicus appellate brief on behalf of the API community in support of marriage equality (Woo v. Lockyer).  Formerly, Mr. Hwang was the managing attorney of the Asian Law Caucus, and prior to joining the Caucus, Mr. Hwang served for nearly five years as a deputy public defender in Los Angeles.  He teaches as an adjunct professor of law at Golden Gate University and Boalt, and was appointed in 2006 to the San Francisco elections Commission.  Mr. Hwang has also been a past president of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area, a Commissioner on the State Bar Ethnic Minority Relations Commission, a co-chair of the Minority Bar Coalition, and a founding board member of the NAPABA/Judge Takasugi Fellowship.  Mr. Hwang has been named as one of the “Best Lawyers Under 40” by NAPABA in 2006.

The Honorable Mike K. Nakagawa
California Eastern Region

The Honorable Mike K. Nakagawa was appointed to the bench in 2006.  Judge Nakagawa served an extended judicial clerkship with the Honorable Philip C. Wilkins, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the eastern District of California in Sacramento.  He entered private practice in 1984 as a partner in the law firm of Cooper, Nakagawa & Briseno and concluded private practice as the founder of Nakagawa & Rico before his judicial appointment.  From 1995 through 2005, Judge Nakagawa taught bankruptcy law and reorganization at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento as an adjunct professor, and also at Lincoln Law School in downtown Sacramento.  He has also served as a lawyer representative to the Judicial Conference of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Judge Nakagawa also was a member of the civil Service Commission for the County of Sacramento, served on the Commission for thirteen years and as its chairperson on three separate occasions.

The Honorable Michael J. Watanabe
Southwest Region

Judge Watanabe began more than 28 years of public service after graduating from California Western School of Law in 1979. He started his legal career as a Deputy Legislative Counsel for the State of Nevada, then served as a Deputy District Attorney for Colorado’s 18 th Judicial District.  Judge Watanabe then entered private practice with the law firm of Montgomery Little Young Campbell & McGrew, P.C., before becoming the first Asian-American to serve as a Colorado District Court Judge, when he was appointed by Colorado Governor Roy Romer to the bench for the 18 th Judicial District in 1987 at age 34.  In 1999, he became the first and only Asian-American judicial officer for the United states district Court for the District of Colorado and the only Asian-American judicial officer for the Tenth Circuit ( Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah & Wyoming). In 2005, Judge Watanabe was awarded the Minoru Ysui Award by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Colorado (“APABA”) and the Colorado Asian Pacific American Bar Foundation that honors an individual or organization whose goal of community service exemplifies the achievements of Mr. Yasui. He has also served on various boards and committees for the Colorado Bar Association, Arapahoe County Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association.

Neal Kumar Katyal
Southeast Region

Neal Katyal, a Professor at Georgetown University Law School, recently won Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in the United States Supreme Court, a case that challenged the policy of military trials at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba. The Supreme Court sided with him, finding that President Bush’s tribunals violated the constitutional separation of powers, domestic military law, and international law. Mr. Katyal previously served as National Security Adviser in the U.S. Justice Department and was commissioned by President Clinton to write a report on the need for more legal pro bono work.  He also served as vice President Al Gore’s co-counsel in the Supreme Court election dispute of 2000. Mr. Katyal clerked for Supreme court Justice Stephen Breyer as well as Judge Guido Calabresi of the U.S. Court of Appeals.  Katyal was named Lawyer of the Year in 2006 by Lawyers USA, Runner-Up for Lawyer of the Year 2006 by National Law Journal, one of the top 50 litigators nationwide 45 years old or younger by American Lawyers (2007), and one of 10 Non-Resident Indian Achievers Worldwide by Hindustan Times.  He has been awarded the Town of Salem, Massachusetts Prize (2007); the ACLU Foundation’s Roger Baldwin Award (2007), and the 2004 National Law Journal pro bono award for his work.

Frank H. Wu
Central Region

Frank H. Wu is the author of yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, and co-author of Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment. In 2004, he served as the ninth Dean of Wayne State University Law School.  From 1995 to 2004, he served on the law faculty of Howard University.  He has been an adjunct professor at Columbia University, a visiting professor at University of Michigan, and a teaching fellow at Stanford University.  Dean Wu served as a Trustee of Gallaudet University, the only university in the United States serving primarily deaf and hard of hearing.  He served briefly by appointment of the D.C. Court of Appeals on its Board of Professional Responsibility as well as two terms on Board hearing committees. He was appointed by Major Anthony Williams as Chair of the D.C. Human Rights Commission for 2001-02. He joined the Board of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund in 2004.  He is an elected member of the American Law Institute, member of the Committee of 100 ( a civic group founded by Yo-Yo Ma and I.M. Pei, among others) and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation.  He has hosted episodes of the “Asian America” PBS-syndicated television show.  Prior to his academic career, Dean Wu held a clerkship with the late U.S. District Judge Frank J. Battisti in Cleveland and practiced law with the firm of Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.

Alan T. Murakami
Northwest Region

Alan T. Murakami has been an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation for 23 years, serving as its litigation director for the past 17 years.  Mr. Murakami began practicing law with Legal Aid on the islands of Moloka’I and O’ahu, serving disadvantaged Native Hawaiian communities.  He joined Native Hawaiian Legal corporation a few years after its formation, and has greatly contributed to its evolution as one of very few law firms providing representation related to Native Hawaiian rights and cultural preservation issues in the State of Hawaii.  During his 23-year tenure with NHLC, Mr. Murakami has almost exclusively litigated dozens of novel land and water issues of concern to Hawaiians.  He has been an advocate for his many Hawaiian clients and community groups before the Land Use Commission, Board of Land and Natural Resources, Commission on Water Resource management, Maui County Planning Commission, Honolulu Planning Commission, and the Public Utilities Commission.  Mr. Murakami has also assisted in the editing and writing of the Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook, and has served on several boards, including those for the Hawaii Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development, the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, Na Loio No Na Kanaka, and the Japanese American Citizens League Honolulu Chapter.  He has also been a member of the Hawaii Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for the past 13 years.

The Honorable Fernande R.V. Duffly
Northeast Region

A native of Indonesia, Justice Duffly is the highest-ranking Asian Pacific American jurist in the history of the Comonwealth of Massachusetts.  Upon her appointment to the Appeals Court in February 2000, Justice Duffly became the first Asian Pacific American to be appointed to any higher court in the Commonwealth.  At that time, she was one of only two APA judges in the state court system.  Prior to her appointment to the Appeals Court, Justice Duffly served as a Circuit Justice (1992-94) and then Associate Justice (1994-2000) of the Massachusetts Probate & Family Court.  Before her initial judicial appointment, Justice Duffly had a distinguished career as a litigator, primarily in the domestic relations realm, at the Boston law firm of Warner & Stackpole (now Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis LLP)-where she was an associate (1978-92) in the Litigation Department.  The Massachusetts Association of Women Lawyers honored Justice Duffly with its 2004 Distinguished Jurist Award.  At the national level, Justice Duffly is a member of the NAWJ Executive Committee and has previously served as Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary.  She is currently President-Elect of NAWJ and will succeed to the presidency in November 2007.

Rita Gunasekaran
California Central Region

Rita Gunasekaran is the Chair of Haight Brown & Bonesteel’s Appellate Practice Group.  She is a member of the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers.  Prior to joining HB&B, Ms. Gunasekaran worked as a research attorney in the Court of Appeal of the Second Appellate District for the State of California.  A partner of the firm since January 1, 1992 and a member of the firm since September 1986, Ms. Gunasekaran has filed over 150 appellate briefs and writ petitions, all arising from complex civil litigation.  Ms. Gunasekaran is a member of the Board and of the Executive Committee of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and is the first ever recipient of the National South Asian Bar’s Trailblazer Award.  She is the past Chair of the State Bar of California’s Judicial Nominees Evaluation commission and of the Los Angeles County Bar’s Appellate Courts Committee; a past Trustee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association; the past President of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Los Angeles; a past member of the Board and of the Executive Committee of Public Counsel, and of the Women Lawyers’ Association of Los Angeles; and past Co-Chair of the Amicus Briefs Committee for the Southern California Defense Counsel.

Jerrilyn T. Malana
California Southern Region

Jerrilyn T. Malana is a Shareholder with the San Diego office of Littler Mendelson, P.C., the nation’s largest law firm focused exclusively on employment and labor law.  Ms. Malana defends fortune 500 clients and local businesses in litigation involving claims of discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, employment-related torts, and wage & hour violations.  Ms. Malana serves on the Board of Directors for the San Diego County Bar Association (SDCBA).  Ms. Malana is a past Regional Governor of NAPABA, a past President of Pan Asian Lawyers of San Diego, and a past Board member of the Filipino American Lawyers of San Diego.  Ms. Malana is also active with lawyers Club of San Diego.  She serves on the Board of the Union of Pan Asian Communities (UPAC), on the Board of the San Diego Asian Film Foundation (SDAFF), and also on the Board of the San Diego Opera.  She was elected a Fellow of the American Bar foundation, and also received the State Bar of California’s Wiley W. Manuel award for pro bono service.


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