Tonight is the annual banquet and awards ceremony of the Arizona Asian-American Bar Association, and there are many reasons to be happy you’re attending.

Hon. Barbara Rodriguez Mundell

First, yes, let’s say it: The food is always phenomenal. As in recent years, tonight’s event will be at C-Fu Gourmet in Chandler, Ariz. In the past, it was 10 courses, and I’m expecting something similar. I swore to myself I would avoid food throughout the day in preparation, and missing lunch helped achieve my goal.

More important, the event honors some of the most deserving lawyers and law students in the state. Tonight, we get to hear keynote speaker Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell. And then there are the awards.

I was especially honored to serve as a judge on an awards committee this year. AAABA’s Thomas Tang Law Scholarship is awarded to up to four individuals every year, and the selection is tough.

The law student applicants are judged on the following criteria: involvement with the minority community, law school academic performance, character, leadership skills, economic status, and commitment to practicing in Arizona.

Yikes. So it’s not just the writing ability, or the service, or the grades. It’s all those things.

Congratulations to the winners (whom I have promised not to announce in advance!).

Most of all, the evening and the scholarship are great because they recall past leaders. If you haven’t heard of Thomas Tang, you should read (below) what Wikipedia has to say about him. He was a great lawyer and judge, long before Asian Americans were welcomed into the fraternity with open arms. He is honored tonight, and every day, through the accomplishments and the endeavors of law students and attorneys who strive to improve their communities and their profession.

Thomas Tang

Thomas Tang (January 11, 1922 – July 18, 1995) was a federal judge in the United States and the first Chinese American appointed to the federal judiciary.

The son of a grocery owner, Tang spent his early years in Phoenix, Arizona, where he attended public schools. He fought during World War II, and became a First Lieutenant with the United States Army. After graduation from the University of Santa Clara (B.A.) and the University of Arizona College of Law (LL.B.), he was again commissioned to the Army and served on the Korean peninsula during the Korean War.

In 1952, Tang resigned from the Army and after a brief stint of private practice, served as Deputy County Attorney of Maricopa, Arizona in 1952-1957 and Assistant Attorney General of Arizona in 1957-1959.

He was then elected to the Phoenix City Council of Phoenix in 1960, and a Judge of the Superior Court of Arizona in 1963. During his tenure as Superior Court Judge, numerous lawyers who later rose to great eminence appeared before him, current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor being one of them. After losing his judicial re-election in 1970, due to a highly publicized juvenile murder trial in which he was accused for being too lenient, Tang returned to private practice.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Tang as a United States Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit. Tang served for sixteen years before he took senior status in 1993.

Judge Tang died in 1995, survived by his wife, Dr. Pearl Tang and their children.

In 1993, the APA Law Student Association of the South Texas College of Law, Houston, Texas, (including law students Kevin Pham, John Tang and Monica Tjoa) named a national moot court competition in Tang’s honor. The Thomas Tang National Moot Court Competition is now administered by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) Law Foundation and the NAPABA Judicial Council. The Competition continues to honor the late Judge Tang, a champion of individual rights, an advocate for the advancement of minority attorneys, an ardent supporter of NAPABA and the moot court competition. Judge Tang’s wife, Dr. Pearl Tang, continues the legacy and participates every year.

The Competition is open to all students but is especially designed to reach out to APA law students and provide them with an opportunity to showcase their writing and oral skills and compete for scholarships totaling $10,000.