Rafu Staff Report

SAN FRANCISCO — Tracie L. Brown has been sworn in as a judge of the San Francisco County Superior Court, becoming the first Japanese American woman to serve in that capacity.

Tracie Brown (Photo courtesy of Nihonmachi Little Friends)
Tracie Brown (Photo courtesy of Nihonmachi Little Friends)

Brown, 42, of San Francisco had been an assistant U.S. attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office since 2002. She was an associate at Cooley Godward Kronish LLP from 1997 to 2002; a judicial law clerk for Judge Margaret McKeown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit from 1998 to 1999; and a law clerk and associate at Morrison & Foerster LLP from 1995 to 1997.

She earned a Juris Doctorate degree from the UC Berkeley School of Law and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard-Radcliffe University.

Brown, a Democrat, was appointed in May by Gov. Jerry Brown to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Kevin McCarthy.

Although she has already been serving on the bench, a ceremonial investiture was held on Oct. 15 at the Hiram Johnson State Building. Brown was sworn in by Cynthia Ming-Mei Lee, presiding judge of San Francisco Superior Court. The master of ceremonies was attorney Dale Minami of Minami Tamaki LLP. Brown’s husband, two children, mother, sister and brother were among those in attendance.

Japanese YWCA Case

In 2002, Brown received an award from the California Young Lawyers Association for her pro bono litigation services and outstanding leadership in a civil rights case, Soko Bukai v. the YWCA of San Francisco. The case involved the YWCA’s attempt to sell its property at 1830 Sutter St. in San Francisco Japantown, formerly known as the Japanese YWCA.

At issue was ownership of the building. When Issei Christian women raised money for construction of the building, the 1913 Alien Land Law was still in effect, barring Japanese immigrants from owning most kinds of real property. Soko Bukai, a consortium of Japanese American Christian churches in San Francisco, challenged the sale, which would have resulted in the loss of a historic building as well as the eviction of a preschool operated by Nihonmachi Little Friends.

Brown, who is half Japanese, persuaded her firm, Cooley Godward, to take up the case. The legal team was able to establish that the YWCA had in fact agreed to hold the building in trust for the Issei women in the 1920s. Through an out-of-court settlement, Nihonmachi Little Friends was able to purchase the building at a greatly reduced price.

In presenting the award, the State Bar of California called Brown “a role model for young lawyers in applying her skills not only to the business of the firm, but also to important issues in the community.”

Many of those who worked with Brown on the Soko Bukai case were present at this month’s ceremony.

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