• 24Feb
  • Disparity in the courtroom
  • 2/24/2005
  • Saturday, February 12, 2005 - When attorney Daniel Deng goes to court to defend a client, it is not uncommon for other lawyers, bailiffs and judges to assume he is a Mandarin translator.
    "In a courthouse, Asians are either a defendant or a translator," Deng said. "There are very few attorneys."
    Lawyers like Deng, whose Rosemead practice is a smashing success among Asians in Los Angeles County, are few and far between in the national picture of the justice system.
    Asian Americans make up 2.3 percent of the nation's 871,115 lawyers, according to the American Bar Association's Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. They comprise 4.4 percent of the national population and 13 percent of the California population, according to the Census.
    Attorney Sandra Yamate, director of the ABA commission, said young Asian Americans would have to look hard to find role models in the legal profession -- even on the abundant legal dramas on television.
    "They're so invisible that the one time one of those programs had an Asian character, it was just burning up the Internet," Yamate said. The Asian American community became excited when one of its own had a small role as a lawyer on "JAG" and it was the subject of much Internet chatter.
    "Otherwise, we're so invisible," Yamate said. "But then, we're invisible in so many professions portrayed on television."
    Asian-American lawyers still face some discrimination in real courtrooms, too, Deng said.
    "One time a judge even dared to ask, Can I see your Bar card?"' Deng said. "If you asked every lawyer to show their Bar card, I would do so," Deng told the judge. "But you only ask me, because I'm Asian, because I have an accent."
    Stewart Kwoh, executive director of Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific American Legal Center, said years of discrimination mainly caused the lack of Asian-American lawyers.
    "Historically, Asian Americans essentially weren't allowed to become lawyers," Kwoh said.
    Monty Manibog, 75, of Monterey Park, has had a hand in nearly every type of legal case over a career spanning 44 years.
    Manibog's father, Gonzalo Manibog, was the first Filipino American lawyer in the country, graduating in 1917 from a school in Indiana. The younger Manibog was the first Filipino lawyer on the West Coast, he said.
    California is 1 percent Pacific Islander, according to the most recent census.
    Manibog said Filipino and Pacific Islander lawyers have traditionally been lacking from the legal profession, although they typically come to this country highly educated and speaking the language.
    "Unless we can go into the leadership areas, we really don't have our share of the apple pie," Manibog said.
    After 44 years in the legal profession, Manibog encourages young Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to not only study law and become lawyers, but also go into politics. Manibog recently handed stewardship of the Philippine American Bar Association to his son, Darren, with the long-standing charge of raising scholarship money for Filipino American law students.
    "I tell them what my dad told me, go into a position of leadership, and law is a position of leadership," Manibog said. "The income is good, but the satisfaction of helping people is even greater."
    -- Jason Kosareff can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2717, or by e-mail at jason.kosareff@sgvn.com .


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