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Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Senior Judge Herbert Young Cho Choy, the first Asian on the federal bench and the first to represent Hawaii on the circuit, died Wednesday after recurring health problems. He was 88, and spent 33 years on the bench. Choy’s parents were immigrants who left Korea to work on the sugar plantations of Hawaii where Choy was born. He went to Harvard Law School and became a judge advocate general while in the Army during World War II. He went into private practice when the war ended and was appointed to the Ninth Circuit by President Richard Nixon in 1971. While on the bench Choy was known for being humble and had a loyal following of law clerks whom he mentored over the years. Ninth Circuit Judge Richard Clifton said the clerks, along with secretaries and other employees, called themselves the “Federal Family” and would get together every five years, usually for a dinner and a picnic. They had little in common besides Choy but grew close based on that initial connection, said Clifton, who clerked with Choy from 1975 to 1976. He became his mentor’s colleague when he was appointed to the bench in 2002. Clifton found it remarkable that Choy was so quiet and “non-self-important,” especially considering his extraordinary success story. “He may have been the most fundamentally decent person I’ve ever known,” Clifton said. But reticence didn’t keep Choy from extending himself in his work. Clifton said he kept an enormous caseload, refusing to let even small matters slip by without a thorough evaluation. And the judge was always willing to explain things to his clerks and help them delve into tough legal issues, Clifton said. Clifton said Choy took papers home to read every night and even continued working when health problems prevented him from flying to the U.S. mainland for oral arguments. Choy took senior status in 1984 but kept a caseload into 2004. Clifton said that even though their personalities were different, he’s tried to follow Choy’s example of being “pragmatic” and not bringing a preconceived agenda to cases. He also tries to read as much as Choy did and to not lose sight of Choy’s belief that even some of the “junk” cases that might not look pretty contain worthwhile legal issues. “That, I hope, had an influence on me,” Clifton said. “Don’t get caught up � in the wrapper; make sure you spend some time with the contents.” Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary Schroeder echoed Clifton’s sentiments that Choy was a man of humility. “Judge Choy will be remembered by all who knew him as a man with enormous integrity who richly deserved the high positions he received but did not always seek,” she said in a statement.

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