BY K B NAIR / India Journal
LOS ANGELES, CA – The South Asian Bar Association of Southern California (SABA-SC) and it’s non-profit affiliate, the Public Interest Foundation honored three outstanding individuals in the law profession at a dignified event held at the Kyoto Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on March 3 evening. The occasion was the 8th Annual Banquet of the Organization which was founded in 2003 with a mission dedicated to organizing, supporting, and promoting public interest activities for the benefit of the South Asian Community and the Southern California community at large.
The first to be honored was Consuelo B Marshall of the United States District Court for the Central District of California with the Judicial Appreciation Award. Introducing her to the gathering, Foundation President Puneet Kakkar announced that it was the maiden award being presented to a member of the Judiciary whose influence on the South Asian Bar in Southern California would undoubtedly have national and international impact.
Accepting the honor, Consuelo Marshall recalled her introduction to SABA at the residence of her Law Clerk Pooja Batra when it comprised just enough members to form a small group in her back yard. She said she was very pleased to see that it had since grown to the size it is now. She recollected she had encouraged them to consider many of the opportunities available in the legal profession and she was delighted to see that many had taken advantage of them. She was glad that they had followed her advice to become Law Clerks and students to become externs to serve on court committees. Through the years she had also persuaded members to apply for posts as magistrate judges and she was pleased that there are many from the South Asian community who are holding important positions in the judiciary as well as the legal profession. However, while concluding, she added that while looking at the judiciary across the country, the numbers of South Asians in key positions are still much too small and there is a lot of room for growth and a lot to be done. The award was handed over to Consuelo Marshall by Sapna Jain, Vice-President, Events.
Assistant United States Attorney Rupa S. Goswami was the next to be recognized and was introduced in glowing terms about her professional achievements and her outstanding service to the community, particularly to the South Asian segment by Sapna Jain. Receiving the Public Interest Award, Goswami flashed back to her early days in this country, sometimes humorously to drive home a serious issue.She described the time as a teenager when she was helping her parents run a motel in Daytona Beach, FL , she often overheard customers referring to those from India in derogatory terms such as ‘ dirty Indians” and when she announced her name at her first case in Federal court the elderly judge had hollered ” Now what kind of name is that?” Now, she added, she was particularly pleased to be in a room full of South Asian lawyers whose names no longer sound unfamiliar to the public , who share not only her ethnicity but are also be able to honor two judges elevated to the Bench, Hon Jay Gandhi and Upinder Kalra. “It has,” she remarked, been a huge shift from ‘dirty Indian’ to ‘ Your Honor’ in a single lifetime.
Overcome by emotion for a moment she referred to her parents Chittaranjan and Sheela Goswami and reminded the audience never to forget the indignities suffered by those like them who had brought them to this country. She ended reminding her colleagues that public interest work is not dessert or gravy but is the very core reason why they had become lawyers and it was essential they continue to think what they can do in public interest. Her plaque was presented to her by Secretary, Jacob George.
In a rousing introduction to the final awardee of the evening, Abraham Mathew outlined the numerous achievements in the fields of law, entrepreneurship, community service and his involvement in the community through helping found many organizations such as SABA, NASABA and TIE (The Indus Entrepreneur) which made the recipient Navneet S. Chugh the most qualified to be selected as SABA’s 2011 Trailblazer. In his acceptance address the Founder of The Chugh Law Firm congratulated SABA’s members which had completed 16 years and had spawned the national North American South Asian Bar Association (NASABA) which in turn had given birth to 19 other SABAs which has resulted in a total of 27 SABAs in just 7 years.
Chugh, however, stressed it was necessary to think big and bigger and reminded all that the shirtless Mahatma Gandhi, doing pro bono work all his life ended up in liberating a country of 340 million people. He pointed out that communities the world over have decided to live as a society for which one must follow rules and practices which have been laid down but only a few have mastered how to enforce them. Quoting Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto, he said those in America are fortunate because they have a legal system which works and it has resulted in just 5% of the world population residing in the US holding 30% of the global wealth. He pointed out that two things that are taken for granted in America, to have a house in one’s name and have a deed for it, or to start a company and issue stock in one’s name, is a nightmare in the rest of the world. He listed grave shortfalls in the Indian legal system where trials take over a decade and new cases get preference over others and courts are closed for 30 Govt holidays a year and shuts down for all of the summer.
Chugh proclaimed what the US needs to do is export its legal system for the world to prosper. He reminded those present they carry the heaviest burden of society on their shoulders and urged them to take a pledge to be very very good, do good work, be above average lawyers, take awesome care of clients, be model citizens, give back to society, and work with the highest standards of integrity, morals and ethics He concluded with “What the people of India, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan and the suppressed world need is not guns and steel from the US, they need people like Judge Gandhi, Consuelo Marshall, Rupa Goswami , the SABA Foundation and all of you.” Vice-President Grants and Outreach, Aarti Sampat presented the Trailblazer Award to Navneet Chugh.
Others who spoke during the evening were Foundation President Puneet Kakkar who welcomed the gathering, briefed them on the achievements and aims of the organization and acknowledged the presence of several dignitaries which included several honorable judges.
Sponsorship and Development Co-Chair Jay Bhimani announced a first time joint initiative between the Foundation and the South Asian Network (SAN) to conduct monthly clinics and seminars to discuss common legal issues and teach people about their rights. Puneet Toor, one of the 2010 Law Student Fellowship Recepients spoke of her eye opening experience working with SAN when she realized how just a little attention means so much to the underprivileged. Expressing Congressman Brad Sherman’s happiness in his close relationship with the South Asian Community, Carolina Krawiec presented SABA with a Certicate of Congressional Recognition.
Ankita Patel wound up the proceedings by thanking attendees and urging all to register for the NASABA “Reaching for Stars” Convention to be held in Los Angeles from June 23 to 26, details of which are available on website www.nasabaconvention.com