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Posted on Mon, Nov. 28, 2005
Santa Cruz judge Kathleen Akao dies
JURIST WAS FIRST ASIAN-AMERICAN AND FIRST WOMAN ELECTED TO COUNTY'S HIGH COURT
By Ken McLaughlin
Kathleen K. Akao, the first Asian-American and the first woman to become a Superior Court judge in Santa Cruz County, died unexpectedly at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz on Sunday.
The presiding judge of the court, Judge Akao, 57, was also the only person in Santa Cruz County history to unseat a sitting judge.
Roy Blaine, a spokesman for the court, said this morning that the cause of her death is yet to be determined.
Judge Akao began a two-year term as presiding judge in January. Assistant Presiding Judge Heather D. Morse will assume the role of presiding judge.
``Judge Akao's presence on the court will truly be missed for her leadership, her dedication to the operation of the court to promote access to justice, and her desire to serve the children, families and individuals of Santa Cruz County,'' Morse said in a statement. ``However, as bench officers, we will miss her caring support as our colleague and friend most of all.''
Judge Akao always had a smile and kind word for staff members, Blaine said.
She was a Superior Court judge for more than 11 years. She was first elected to the position in 1994, when she defeated Judge George Kovacevich in a closely watched race.
Kovacevich, a Santa Cruz attorney, had been appointed by former Gov. Pete Wilson. His appointment drew fire from many local attorneys who said the Republican governor had overlooked qualified women and minorities when he appointed Kovacevich and another white man to the local court.
Before her election, Judge Akao served as assistant Santa Cruz County counsel for about eight years and as a public defender and private practice attorney in Santa Clara County. She was also a former staff attorney for the Asian Law Alliance in San Jose. She graduated from the University of Santa Clara School of Law in December 1981.
As a Superior Court judge, Judge Akao took an interest in children and young people, volunteering to preside over Teen/Peer Court cases and mock trial sessions, as well as weekly child dependency court hearings.
She also served as a drug court and Proposition 36 judge and was assigned to criminal court, hearing felony cases, for several years. She had planned to inaugurate a second criminal domestic violence court in January.
Published in San Jose Mercury News on Nov. 28, 2005
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