Judge Sandra Otaka, a member of the Chicago JACL and a leader in the Asian American community, has passed away.
An advocate for Asian Americans and the first Asian American elected as a Cook County judge, she died of natural causes at her home on June 6. She was 57 years old.
Otaka was politically active as a young woman and campaigned against the Vietnam War. She volunteered as a legal clerk with the law firm of Minami, Lew and Tamaki, working to overturn the conviction of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American jailed in 1944 for failing to report to an internment camp.
She received her law degree from UCLA, and then moved to Chicago where she began her professional career as a commercial litigator with the law firm of Sidley and Austin. Thereafter, she served as a negotiator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Otaka organized a campaign in 1989 to have Gerald Murphy, a Cook County judge, removed from the bench after he launched a racist rant against the Japanese in his courtroom. Due to her efforts, Murphy failed to gain judicial retention at the next election. She later helped Lynne Kawamoto become appointed as the county’s first Asian American associate judge. Otaka was elected as a Cook County judge in 2002 and won retention by voters in 2008.
Otaka is survived by her sister, Susan Smith, and her biological nephew, Jeffrey, whom she adopted and raised as her own following her brother’s passing. ♦
For more information, please contact PNW@jacl.org or call 206-623-5088.