Friday, August 28, 2009

Mourning the Loss of Judge Robert Takasugi

Robert Takasugi Elaine Woo writes in the LA Times:

U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi, a survivor of a World War II relocation camp for Japanese Americans who was known for his compassion for victims of injustice and his calm demeanor in the face of sometimes outrageous courtroom antics, has died. He was 78.

Takasugi died August 4 at a Los Angeles nursing home after battling numerous ailments over the last year, said his son, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Jon Takasugi.

The veteran jurist, who spent most of his 36-year judicial career on the federal bench, handled a number of high-profile cases, including a 1980 case that led to a Los Angeles Police Department ban on chokeholds and the 1984 cocaine-trafficking trial of automaker John Z. DeLorean.

In the latter trial, Takasugi was seen as the epitome of judicial restraint when a peripheral but colorful figure in the case, sex-magazine publisher Larry Flynt, disrupted the proceedings with profane outbursts and provocative attire, including a diaper fashioned from an American flag. Takasugi didn't bat an eye at the outfit, but he fined the publisher $250,000 for refusing to reveal the source of a mysterious audiotape that threatened to derail the case.

He also had a reputation for being pro-defense but earned the respect of lawyers on both sides of the courtroom.

"He was completely devoted to assuring that the proceedings in his court would be fair and seen to be fair," said Andrea Ordin, who appeared before Takasugi when she was a U.S. attorney in the late 1970s. "He also had a very high bar for the prosecutors. He was vigilant that the power of prosecutors not be abused. The prosecutors during the years I was there became better advocates because of it."

Among his other noteworthy cases was a 25-year legal battle between a University of California historian and the federal government, which was withholding the FBI files of former Beatle John Lennon on national security grounds. At one point in the case, he directed the FBI to disclose whether it had "used unlawful activities" in connection with its investigation of Lennon's political activities. The unusual order led to negotiations that eventually resulted in the release of the final 10 documents in 2006.

"When the government came in and claimed national security, he didn't take that lightly, but he wasn't prepared to suspend the law just based on the representation that national security might be implicated," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, who appeared in Takasugi's courtroom numerous times. "He said, 'Prove it up to me.' If the government couldn't prove it up, he didn't think twice about saying these documents belong in the public domain."

One of Takasugi's more recent cases involved an ACLU challenge in 2002 of a post-9/11 federal law requiring airport screeners to be U.S. citizens. Takasugi ruled that the hiring restriction amounted to a "constitutional deprivation" that cost thousands of noncitizen screeners their jobs. The law was later amended to allow permanent residents to serve as screeners.

In 2002 he also threw out an indictment against seven Los Angeles residents who had been accused of fundraising for an Iranian opposition group listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department. Takasugi said the law classifying terrorist groups deprived the defendants of due-process rights because they were not given a chance to rebut the terrorist allegations before their group was placed on the list. Click here for the rest of the story.


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