Retired Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki of the Los Angeles County Superior Court passed away on Oct. 10 at his home in Arleta. He was 85.
Fujisaki was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1977 and was elevated to the Superior Court in 1980. He retired from the bench in 1997, at the age of 61.
Fujisaki acquired national attention for presiding over the civil trial of O.J. Simpson. The presiding judge for Simpson’s criminal trial, Lance Ito, had become a household name, but Fujisaki did not reach the same level of notoriety because he banned cameras from the courtroom and imposed a gag order on the participants, citing the circus-like atmosphere of the first trial, in which Simpson was acquitted.
During the jury selection process, the Associated Press reported, “Don’t complain to Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki that your elderly mother has arthritis and needs you. The judge in O.J. Simpson’s civil trial told a prospective juror looking for a way out that he, too, has had arthritis and it hasn’t slowed him down.
“Gout? Had that. Torn muscle? That, too. About the only health-related hardship the judge didn’t claim to share was pregnancy. And even that wasn’t enough to excuse a member of the panel.”
The AP report added, “The judge often treats the attorneys as an unfortunate part of the legal process, complaining about the amount of paperwork they file and showing little patience with oral arguments. On Tuesday, he burst through nearly 40 motions in under two hours, rarely stopping to let the attorneys utter a single word.”
The jury found Simpson liable for the 1994 deaths of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman, and ordered him to pay $33.5 million in damages.
Some legal analysts speculated that the Simpson case was so racially charged that both trials required a judge who was neither black nor white. Talk show host David Letterman joked that there would not be a third Simpson trial because “they ran out of Japanese judges.”
Fujisaki had presided over other high-profile cases. In 1996, he refused Jack Nicholson’s bid to dismiss a $1 million breach of contract suit filed by the actor’s former lover.
In 1995, he agreed to throw out a woman’s sexual harassment lawsuit against actor Steven Seagal.
In 1993, he ruled that former `”Diff’rent Strokes” star Gary Coleman’s parents were wrongly paid nearly $1.3 million in excessive commissions and salaries, and awarded the sum to Coleman.
Fujisaki’s cases also included lawsuits involving actors Elke Sommer and Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Born in West Los Angeles, Fujisaki was incarcerated at Manzanar during World War II. He earned a bachelor’s degree from UCLA, then completed a J.D. at the UCLA School of Law. After graduating law school, he began his legal career as a deputy public defender for the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office in 1963. He worked in that capacity until 1970, at which time he went into private practice.
He served as president of the California Asian Pacific American Judges Association from 1984 to 1985. He was also a member of the Japanese American Bar Association.
In 1995 in Little Tokyo, Fujisaki and Ito were among five Japanese American judges who took part in a discussion of the World War II mass incarceration, sponsored by the Japanese American National Museum and the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation. The other speakers were U.S. District Court Judges Robert Takasugi and Wallace Tashima and Superior Court Judge Fumiko Wasserman.
According to Pacific Citizen, Fujisaki recalled living on Sawtelle in West L.A. and having to gather with his family near the Japanese school before being taken to camp by bus. He also remembered his first days in camp, having to fill mattresses with straw and getting lost after using the communal bathroom because all the barracks were identical.
One of his uncles was transferred from Manzanar to Tule Lake and was sent to Japan, and his own father considered doing the same. Fujisaki realized that his father “had given up. The greater deprivation [of the camps] was of the spirit.”
He enjoyed going on trips with his family. His favorite pastimes included motorcycle riding, fishing, jogging and skiing.
Fujisaki is survived by his wife of 64 years, Misako; daughter Gayle Regan, her husband Tony and their children Ben and Luke; daughter Carin Fujisaki, her husband Pablo Haz and their children Siena and Griffin; brother Takeshi Fujisaki; sister Yasuko Fujisaki; sister Yoshiko Masuda; brother Tony Fujisaki and his wife Shirley; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by sister Yuri Masuda and her husband Tom, and sister-in-law June Fujisaki.
At present, no services have been planned. If making a donation in his memory is desired, the family suggests the Oya Koko Foundation (www.oyakoko.org), an all-volunteer organization founded in 2012 with the primary purpose of raising funds to support the mission of Nikkei Senior Gardens.