Jun 01, 2023
Recap March General Membership Meeting
Justice Fujisaki Stays Connected to The Past While Looking to the Future
Jun 01, 2023
By Leila K. Mongan, Esq.
Upon visiting Justice Carin T. Fujisaki’s chambers in the California Court of Appeal, you will encounter three items on the wall. They are framed documents from the Justice’s parents’ time as children in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, including a crayon drawing of the camp made by her mother, a war identification card, and a document showing the education her mother received at the camp. Justice Fujisaki displays these items prominently on her wall because she does not want to forget her parents’ experience of being sent to the camps, and the hardships they endured there.
Her parents were eventually released from the camps, grew older, got married, and had children of their own, but the memory of that indignity always stayed with them. Justice Fujisaki saw the lingering effect of their experience when, as a child, her parents encouraged her to assimilate rather than embrace her Japanese cultural heritage. She felt it when they described their shame at being mistreated by their adopted country solely because of their race. She saw it when she watched her father go into public service and become a judge in Los Angeles. And now, every day, she remembers it when she arrives at work as an Associate Justice on the Court of Appeal. Throughout her life, and her work, she carries this unique perspective.
Like many young attorneys, Justice Fujisaki began her career at a large law firm, where she practiced civil litigation and pro bono work. Collaborating with supportive colleagues, she learned a great deal, and very much enjoyed the work. She then accepted a position on the Central Staff of the California Supreme Court, where she screened civil petitions for review and wrote memos advising the Court whether to accept the case. The memos evaluated whether a particular case presented a legal issue of statewide importance, and whether it was a good vehicle for addressing it. Justice Fujisaki enjoyed that this role, unlike her prior role as an advocate, allowed her to contribute to the development of the law. After serving on the Central Staff, Justice Fujisaki worked as a staff attorney for Justice Baxter on the same court. She found her
self quite at home with the significant writing, legal research, and record review this role required.
Upon her appointment to the Court of Appeal, Justice Fujisaki gained a new appreciation for the number of legal issues that remain unresolved in California; and, since the Supreme Court hears only a subset of cases, for the proportion of the law that is determined by the Courts of Appeal. She has also come to appreciate the volume of cases that come up from the trial court, and the deferential standard of review that the trial court’s judgments warrant, given their proximity to the witnesses and evidence. No matter what case she is working on, Justice Fujisaki always takes care to apply the law consistently, so that the application of the law is equal, and never results-oriented.
Throughout her career, Justice Fujisaki has developed a keen sense of what makes a good practitioner. She advises attorneys to strive for excellence. Briefs should be well-written, including citations to the record, and should not mislead or extend beyond the record. She appreciates legal research that is relevant and focused; and advises practitioners to refine their arguments in response to the court’s tentative opinions or focus questions. Finally, Justice Fujisaki encourages good manners, and respect toward opposing counsel.
Volunteer Work & Judicial Council
Mentoring is one way Justice Fujisaki contributes to the legal community. She obtains great satisfaction from mentoring students and young attorneys who are seeking meaningful guidance. Justice Fujisaki appreciates that being an Asian American Justice may help young Asian attorneys realize that they, too, can aspire to achieve prominent levels of the profession. And she appreciates that being a person of color, while it cannot affect the application of the law, may provide context in certain factual situations.
Justice Fujisaki is also a member of the California Judicial Council. As the policymaking body of the judicial branch, the Council is responsible for ensuring equal access to justice and for overseeing its administration, through five committees: Budget Committee; Legislative Committee; Rulemaking Committee; Technology Committee; and Litigation Committee. Justice Fujisaki believes that the diversity of voices on these committees – different backgrounds, practices, geographic locations within the state, and urban or rural experience – is integral to the Council’s mission of leveraging resources to benefit all of California. Justice Fujisaki also served on a workgroup reviewing administrative standards, which included addressing bias in administrative proceedings. Its primary focus was on preventing bias, rather than reacting to it.
Justice Fujisaki encourages attorneys, from different backgrounds, to apply to serve on one of the committees of the Judicial Council. Applicants should demonstrate good judgment and a collaborative spirit. You may find, like Justice Fujisaki, that your own experiences have left you with a unique perspective that can enrich your own practice, as well as the broader legal community.