The Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association celebrated its 25th anniversary last week at its annual gala, while also honoring the loss of two prominent members, Han Choi and Trinh Huynh.
Choi, a former GAPABA president and the managing partner of Ballard Spahr’s Atlanta office, died of pancreatic cancer on March 26 at age 52. One year earlier, Huynh, 40, was shot to death in Midtown as she was crossing Peachtree Street on the way to her job in the legal department at UPS.
When Judge Alvin Wong of the DeKalb County State Court and Natsu Saito, a law professor at Georgia State University College of Law, started the Georgia chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association in 1993, they were able to find only 13 Asian-Pacific lawyers in Georgia.
The group has grown quite a bit since then, with almost 500 members and friends attending the gala at the Georgia Aquarium. Asian-American lawyers have achieved numerous milestones in the legal community, as GAPABA president Cherish De la Cruz recounted in a brief history.
Wong became the first Asian-American elected a Georgia judge in 1998, and Meng Lim, a Chinese-Cambodian refugee, was the first to be elected to a Georgia superior court, on the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit, in 2014.
Other Asian-Americans who’ve become leaders in the Georgia legal community include Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Carla Wong McMillian and BJay Pak, the new U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.
Sam Park was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives from Gwinnett County in 2016, its first Asian-American Democrat (and openly gay man), following in the footsteps of Pak, a former state representative on the Republican side.
GAPABA recognized McMillian with its Women’s Leadership Award and Park with its Rising Star Award. The group also spotlighted some notable corporate lawyers, giving its General Counsel Diversity Champion Award to Ken Jew, the general counsel for Ross Stores, and its Judge Alvin T. Wong Pioneer Award to Angela Hsu, vice president of legal for Duke Realty Corp.
Several of these lawyers came to the United States as children with their families. Viet Dinh, a Vietnamese refugee, set the theme of immigrants achieving success in America in his keynote speech.
Dinh was the U.S. assistant attorney general for legal policy in the George W. Bush administration, where he helped to establish the USA Patriot Act. He went on to found his own law firm, Bancroft, noted for taking on conservative causes, and then became a partner at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington.
Choi and Huynh Honored
Choi and Huynh both also immigrated to the United States as children.
Choi arrived in the United States from Korea as a toddler and grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas.
A public finance lawyer, he started his legal career as an associate at King & Spalding after earning a law degree from Emory University. He went on to become the managing partner of Ballard Spahr’s local office in 2012—the first Asian-American lawyer to hold that position at a large firm in Atlanta. He was also a member of the firm’s Korea initiative.
Wong remembered Choi’s “leadership, strength of character, boundless energy” and commitment to his community, including the time he spent to mentor the next generation of Asian-Pacific-American lawyers. “We admire you, we respect you—and we love you. You will always be with us, Han,” he said.
In addition to his involvement in GAPABA, Choi helped found and was a past president of the Korean American Bar Association of Georgia (KABA-GA) and served as the regional governor of the International Association of Korean Lawyers, which is holding its annual conference in Atlanta this fall.
“Han’s love for his family was at the top of his list,” said his wife Catherine Abrams, adding that GAPABA and KABA-GA “were not far down.”
Choi also served on the State Bar of Georgia’s board of governors and was a past president of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Association.
Choi’s family and friends, in partnership with NAPABA, have established the Han C. Choi Scholarship Fund to honor his memory. NAPABA is contributing $25,000, said the group’s president, Pankit Doshi, who served with Choi on NAPABA’s board, and the fund has already raised $75,000 toward its initial goal of $100,000. It will benefit Asian-American first- and second-year law students, with special consideration for those affected by cancer.
Huynh immigrated to the United States from Vietnam with her parents and five sisters and settled in Gainesville. She went on to college at Princeton University and then Emory University for law school. She started her legal career at Powell Goldstein and then joined Alston & Bird before opening her own shop. After a two-year sabbatical to travel the world, Huynh worked in-house at The Coca-Cola Co. and then UPS.
She was very involved in her community, serving as a GAPABA board member, an advisory board member for the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN) and a mock trial coach for the Grady High School team. GAPABA honored her with a candelight vigil in Midtown on April 6, 2017, three days after her death.
GAPABA established the Trinh Huynh Fellowship Fund last year. The first recipient was Amy May Willis, in a new position at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta offering “know your rights” and deportation defense services to immigrants.
Contributions to the Han C. Choi Scholarship Fund may be made online at https://squareup.com/store/nlf or by check payable to the NAPABA Law Foundation at P.O. Box 65081, Washington, DC 20035.
Contributions to the Trinh Huynh Fellowship Fund may be made online at www.GAPABA.org/Foundation. Checks should be made payable to The GAPABA Law Foundation and directed to Steven Wong, treasurer c/o The Home Depot, 2455 Paces Ferry Road, Suite C-20, Atlanta, GA 30339.