Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Honoring the Legal Giants of Philadelphia

In the city known for the quality of its lawyers for over 250 years, and in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we celebrate the contributions of outstanding Philadelphia Asian lawyers, including Hon. William M. Marutani, David Oh and Hon. Ida K. Chen. Their contributions on both the local and national stages helped break barriers for equality and add to the legal prominence of the city of Philadelphia.

We invite you to learn more about each of these legal giants below.

Hon. William M. Marutani (1923 – 2004)

Judge William Marutani was a second-generation Japanese American who served six months in an American internment camp following the Pearl Harbor attack in 1942. Later during the war, he served in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service (MIS). Marutani became the first Asian American judge in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania when he was appointed to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County in 1975. He was also the first Asian American outside of the Pacific Coast states to preside as a judge of a court of general jurisdiction. He was later elected to a full ten-year term in 1977. As an attorney, he participated in civil rights drives in the South, and he helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). He served as a volunteer civil rights lawyer in cases involving the desegregation of schools and the promotion of voter registration drives in Mississippi. Marutani appeared on argument in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, which was a seminal case in striking down anti-miscegenation laws in 17 states. He also served on numerous civic and charitable boards and commissions. He was appointed to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians by President Jimmy Carter in 1981. The Commission concluded that the internment of Japanese Americans was the unjust result of racism, wartime hysteria and a failure of political leadership.  Read more about this legal giant.

David Oh (1960 – )

David Oh was born in Philadelphia and graduated from Dickinson College and Rutgers Law School. After graduating from law school, he worked as a Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney. He was the first Asian American elected to the Philadelphia City Council, or any political office in Philadelphia, and is the only veteran serving on council at this time. He has served as a Republican member of the city council since 2012. He currently serves as a Councilman At-Large.  On council, David serves as Minority Whip and Chair of the Committee on Global Opportunities & the Creative/Innovative Economy. Read more about this legal giant. 

Hon. Ida K. Chen (1954 – )

Judge Ida Chen was born in Hong Kong, immigrated to the United States from Indonesia and graduated from Temple University School of Law. In July of 1988, Judge Chen became the first Asian American female to serve as a judge in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 1989, she became the first Asian American female to be elected in a city-wide campaign in Philadelphia. She currently presides in the Court of Common Pleas, the Family Court Division. Chen served as a trial attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from 1976 to 1986. She became the first Asian American to be appointed to the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission (PHRC) in 1986. From 2003 – 2004, she chaired the Ethics Committee of the 21st Century Review Forum for the City of Philadelphia. She is a member of the Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial & Ethnic Fairness, which promotes the equal application of the law for all citizens in Pennsylvania. Chen is also an adjunct professor at Temple University Beasley School of Law and a lecturer for Cornell University School of Industrial & Labor Relations.  Read more about this legal giant.

Author Michael Coran is a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at Klehr Harrison, which strives to advance diversity, equity and inclusion through education in all forms from educating our own lawyers and clients, hiring and mentoring minority lawyers and providing tools to educate students of all ages.


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