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Pioneering federal judge Alfred Laureta continued public service after retiring

  • STAR-ADVERTISER / 1978
                                Alfred Laureta celebrated many firsts in his career, including being the first person of Filipino descent to be appointed a state court judge

    STAR-ADVERTISER / 1978

    Alfred Laureta celebrated many firsts in his career, including being the first person of Filipino descent to be appointed a state court judge

Alfred Laureta was born to immigrant laborers at Banana Camp at Ewa Plantation and would rise to become the nation’s first Filipino American federal judge.

Laureta, an active volunteer and public servant in his retirement on Kauai, died Nov. 16 at his Kapaa home with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren by his side. He was 96.

Laureta’s long career in the law was marked by numerous other firsts. Among them: He was the first Filipino American to be appointed as a gubernatorial cabinet officer and the first person of Filipino descent to be appointed a state court judge.

When President Jimmy Carter appointed him in 1978 as the first Filipino American to serve as a federal judge, it was as the first district judge in the federal court for the Northern Mariana Islands, where he presided for a decade.

Laureta was born in Ewa in 1924, the only son of laborers who migrated to Hawaii two years earlier. After graduating from Lahainaluna High School on Maui, Laureta worked his way through the University of Hawaii at Manoa and then attended the Fordham University School of Law on a scholarship.

While in New York, Laureta met his wife, Evelyn, a nursing student, who died in 2012.

Back in Hawaii after college, Laureta helped form a new law firm with partners Bert Kobayashi, a future state Supreme Court associate justice; Russell Kono, who went on to become a state district court judge; and George Ariyoshi, who would serve three-plus terms as Hawaii governor.

After the Democrats took control of the Territorial Legislature in 1954, Laureta was appointed House attorney for the 1955 session, along with Patsy Mink, who would represent Hawaii in Congress, and Herman Lum, future chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

He later worked in Washington, D.C., as administrative assistant to newly elected U.S. Rep. Daniel Inouye.

In 1963 Laureta was appointed director of the Department of Labor by Gov. John A. Burns, a post he held until the governor appointed him to the bench.

He served as a judge of the 1st Circuit Court in Honolulu from 1967 to 1969 before transferring to Kauai’s 5th District Court in 1969. The federal appointment came in 1978.

In retirement, Laureta continued to serve the community as a volunteer mediator for the Kauai Economic Opportunity, as the Kauai commissioner on the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, and as an elected director on the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, among other things.

Former Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. remembered Laureta as well-connected yet humble, treating everyone he came into contact with the same way.

“He took his role as a judge seriously. At the same time, he was an uncle and friend who helped me with a lot of advice. He was always there for me as a mentor and an uncle,” said Carvalho, who was recently elected to the Kauai County Council.

“His children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were at his bedside. He lived a very full and rewarding life,” San Francisco attorney David Collins, a former law clerk for Laureta, said in an email.

Another former clerk, insurance executive Robin Campaniano, told the Honolulu Advertiser in 2002 that Laureta was an important mentor in his life.

“He taught me how to be a lawyer and how to be very judicial. He showed me judicial temperament and how that should permeate everybody’s life: How to be honest, fair, to be a person with integrity and to be humble at the same time,” he said.

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