SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah municipal judge known for his advocacy for Asian Americans and criticism of President Donald Trump has died.
Taylorsville Justice Court Michael Kwan, 58, was found unresponsive at his home on July 21, said Emily Bingham, a family spokeswoman and friend.
“It was very sudden and unexpected,” she said, adding that he was not sick. An autopsy has been scheduled to determine his cause of death.
Kwan was known for being an early adopter of drug courts, which favor rehabilitation over punitive measures for drug offenders and people who are caught driving drunk, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. A descendant of one of Utah’s Chinese railroad workers, Kwan advocated for Chinese Americans to receive more recognition for their contributions to the Transcontinental Railroad.
“We’ve been here for more than 150 years and we have contributed every step of the way,” Kwan told The Associated Press in 2019. “That’s the dream: Have people stop asking us where we’re from.”
Taylorsville Mayor Kristie Overson said Kwan would be missed.
“Above all, his model was fairness and he eschewed bigotry and racism with every essence of his being,” Overson said.
Kwan was a Taylorsville judge since 1998. He had been suspended without pay for making comments about Trump from the bench and on his personal social media accounts. He eventually returned to his position.
One of three of his sisters, state Democratic state Rep. Karen Kwan, announced her brother’s death on Twitter, the Deseret News reported.
“The Kwan family is deeply saddened by the terrible and shocking news that Michael, our son, brother, father, husband, uncle, cousin, friend and dog grandfather has passed away and left us far too soon,” she said.
Kwan is survived by his wife, two children and a dog named Beebo that family members said he considered as a grandchild.
A memorial service has not yet been announced.
Taylorsville city officials said they are working with the courts to appoint his replacement.
Kwan received a law degree from Whittier College School of Law and was certified in Chinese law by the East China University of Politics and Law. He served as pro tempore judge in 3rd District Court from 1996 to 1998, before presiding over Taylorsville Justice Court.