[COMMUNITY] Jeff Adachi / San Francisco P.D. / Golden Ring Awards
- An All Asian American Affair
Second Golden Ring Awards highlight APA artistic achievement
BY PAUL LEE CANNON
The stars shined brightly over and inside San Francisco's Davies
Symphony Hall Saturday night when the Asian American Arts Foundation
(AAAF) presented its second Golden Ring Awards. The stellar event,
hosted by comedian Henry Cho, paid tribute to 13 highly regarded
forces in the APA arts and entertainment community.
In front of the mostly Asian American audience--triple the turnout
at the 1995 Golden Ring Awards at Yerba Buena Gardens--the
foundation honored a wide range of talent: performance artist Brenda
Wong Aoki; hip-hop DJ Q-Bert; dancer Marianna Tcherkassky; actors
Steve Park and Russell Wong; actress Tia Carrere; actresses Nancy
Kwan and Pat Suzuki, actor James Shigeta, and author C.Y. Lee for
their contributions to Flower Drum Song; film producer Terence
Chang; director John Woo; and contemporary jazz group Hiroshima,
which received the Golden Ring Lifetime Achievement Award.
Proceeds from the event (tickets were $50 or $150 a seat) go
directly to the two-and-a-half-year-old foundation, which helps fund
Asian American arts programs and provides scholarships and grants to
emerging APA artists.
In 1995, the AAAF presented its first Golden Ring Awards in response
to APA programs that lost funding due to National Endowment for the
Arts' cutbacks. Since its inception, the foundation has raised more
than $60,000. AAAF Chairman Jeff Adachi hoped to double, even triple
that amount with this year's gala.
"The AAAF was created to provide a vehicle for the arts to take a
proactive role by investing ourselves and our artists in the images
that we want to see in our stories," Adachi said during the
ceremony's introduction. "But at the same time there is a cost and a
consequence to not getting our stories out, not investing in the
arts. Our stories are being lost.
"We hear that anti-Asian American violence is at its highest peak.
When the National Review cover came out, we had very few vehicles to
respond. Now that's changing, and it's a very exciting time.
"It's a dream come true for our foundation," he concluded. "We want
to get the message out, and we're gonna have the artists show you
After Adachi's opening words, an on-screen montage of films starring
Asian American men, ranging from Bruce Lee to Gedde Watanabe, kicked
off the evening. A large movie screen at the rear of the stage also
treated the crowd to images depicting the accomplishments of APA
But the clips were not always meant to be uplifting. At one point, a
disturbing scene from the recent film Donnie Brasco flashed across
the screen: A Japanese restaurant host gets severely beaten after
insisting that a character, played by Johnny Depp, take his shoes
off before sitting down.
Nonetheless, this year's event had something in store for everyone.
The crowd ran the gamut from eager, camera-ready grandmothers to
svelte teenagers looking as if they were on their way to the prom. A
black tux was the outfit of choice for men; for women, the "little
black dress" ruled. The high Asian quotient in attendance even
extended to the security staff.
In between award presentations, the audience saw the high-energy
moves of the Lynn Imanaka Dancers and heard the melodies of violin
prodigy Rachel Kim, the rock 'n' roll sounds of the band Shaking
Babies, the riveting words of performance artist Justin Chin, and
the hip-hop vibes of DJ Q-Bert and the Invisbl Skratch Pickls.
Flanked by three sculpted male dancers, recording artist Jocelyn
Enriquez brought "A Little Bit of Ecstasy" to the Davies stage. She
dazzled the crowd with her hit single and her slim, red, Shanghai-
style silk pants, beaded bra, and Mata Hari-inspired headpiece.
In addition to performing, Enriquez presented the Emerging Artist
Award to DJ Q-Bert, who skipped giving an acceptance speech, opting
instead to hold up the award and wave to the audience while exiting
The leader of the contemporary jazz group Hiroshima eagerly made an
acceptance speech after accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award
from writer Ben Fong-Torres.
Another honoree, performance artist Brenda Wong Aoki, aptly
expressed the Golden Ring's significance. She said the recognition
of APA artists on such a large scale is something long overdue,
especially since there are still many more artists out there who
need to be seen and heard.
"Nobody's voice is a single voice," she said. "The voice carries
many, many generations."
During what was perhaps the evening's most riveting moment,
playwright David Henry Hwang presented special Golden Ring Awards to
the principal players of Flower Drum Song. This year marks the 40th
anniversary of the Rodgers and Hammerstein-produced Broadway play
and the 36th anniversary of the release of the film. Flower Drum
Song was the first-ever Broadway musical and film production
featuring an all-Asian American cast.
After a clip reminded the audience of the film's charm, author C.Y.
Lee and actors Nancy Kwan, Pat Suzuki, and James Shigeta nobly made
their way across the stage. The cheering Davies crowd immediately
rose to their feet.
C.Y. Lee then took his turn at the mike, announcing that Hwang, who
has rewritten the musical, "has the blessing of Rodgers and
Hammerstein" to bring Flower Drum Song back to Broadway.
At a pre-show reception, Kwan said that despite such achievements,
she still feels that a glass ceiling exists for Asian Pacific
"I think it's opening up a little bit more, but I don't think it's
nearly enough," she said. "I think Asian actors are still struggling
for better roles today, as in the past."
Another highlight of the evening was a surprise appearance by the
Rev. Jesse Jackson, who presented the "Anna May Wong Award of
Excellence" to actor and comedian Steve Park.
Jackson seized the opportunity to stress the importance of the AAAF,
emphasizing that the battle for equality continues.
"How we learn about cultures is through their arts," Jackson
said. "Whether [we're called] 'Charlie Chan' or 'little black
Sambo,' we all fight for equity.''
After accepting the award, Park embraced the civil-rights dignitary;
both then raised clutched hands in a sign of victory. Following a
standing ovation, overwhelmed with emotion, Park choked back tears
and delivered his acceptance speech.
"I can't tell you what an honor it is that Jesse Jackson took time
out of his day to present me this award," he said.
Park, best known for his supporting roles in the films Fargo and Do
the Right Thing, also used the moment as a platform to talk about
his role models and to strongly dispel a common minority myth.
"When I was growing up and someone asked me who my role models were,
it was funny because they were all black men: Martin Luther King
Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali. Blacks have helped me so much. The
ongoing stereotype that blacks and Koreans can't get along is a myth
perpetuated by the news media.''
On a lighter note, funny lady Margaret Cho, who's currently pursuing
directing as well as acting, presented a Golden Ring Award to hot
action-film director John Woo. Cho, a 1995 recipient of a Golden
Ring Award, starred in Woo's summer blockbuster Face/Off alongside
John Travolta and Nicolas Cage.
"To say that I'm just a fan of John Woo is a gross understatement,"
Cho told the Davies audience. "I am obsessed with John Woo.''
Woo's partner in the film world, producer Terence Chang, was also
Adding star quality to the evening were appearances by actress
Michelle Yeoh, who will star opposite Pierce Brosnan in the latest
James Bond flick, and honorees Tia Carrere and Russell Wong.
Among the lesser-known but equally deserving honorees was Marianna
Tcherkassky, a former principal dancer with American Ballet Theater.
When her limousine pulled up in front of Davies Symphony Hall,
neither the press nor the public approached her. However, she did
rack up style points for her white organza gown with matching shawl.
Tcherkassky said her "defining moment'' was dancing with Mikhail
Baryshnikov in the title role of Giselle in 1976. In accepting her
Golden Ring Award, she told the audience: "It's easier to express
myself through dance and bury myself in a role than to tell you how
thankful and honored I am for this award."
Carrere and Wong were just as--if not more--striking in person as
they are on the silver screen.
The Chinese-Hawaiian-Filipino actress wore a slinky black dress with
beaded accents. Her hair styled as tousled ringlets, Carrere wore a
shiny diamond bracelet and black velvet stilettos to complete the
"Maybe I shouldn't have a drink in my hand,'' she said jokingly at
the pre-show reception before answering questions about her success
and her future.
Carrere, whose career took off after a leading role in Wayne's
World, is currently at work on the film Star City with Stephen
Baldwin. The production company she and her husband lead, Phoenician
Films, has produced 20 movies, six of which starred Carrere--
including Kull, the Conqueror with Kevin Sorbo.
The more reserved Wong talked about his upcoming film projects,
including the much anticipated The Locked Room, which resurrects and
reinvents the Charlie Chan series.
Judging by the success of this year's gala, it seems obvious that
future Golden Ring Awards would become an annual tradition on an
ever bigger scale. But according to Adachi, "that depends on the
level of interest for such events and whether the time is right to
take it to the next level.
"If there's a lot more community support as well as financial
support, we'll be there," he said. "And if my wife, Mutsuko, lets
"This is the Most Important Case of My Career"
Jeff Adachi, one of San Francisco's highest-profile public
defenders, is a relentless advocate. Over the course of his 15-year
career, Adachi worked his way, case by case, from misdemeanors to
homicides to the role of chief attorney, the number-two position in
the public defender's office. He developed a reputation as one of
the most hard-nosed and aggressive trial lawyers in the office, so
when Lam Choi was accused of murdering Cuong Tran, Adachi was well
prepared to take on this exceedingly difficult case.
Adachi grew up in Sacramento, where his father was an auto mechanic
and his mother a laboratory assistant. He is a fourth-generation
Japanese American, whose parents and grandparents were imprisoned in
the Japanese internment camps during World War II. This family
history had a huge impact on him and was one of the main reasons
Adachi decided to become a public defender. He graduated from the
University of California at Berkeley and Hastings Law School. He is
married and lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter.
Featured News Story (Sept. 2004)
Adachi Continues to Fight For Justice as the San Francisco Public
By Kathy Aoki and Nichi Bei Times
Jeff Adachi knows the work of public defenders often gets a bad
rap. "I think the perception people have of public defenders is they
are overworked and spend little time with their clients," said
Adachi. "It's true public defenders handle many cases at one time
but they are dedicated individuals who are providing the best legal
representation for their clients. They work long hours and are
passionate about their work."
Adachi also knows hard work pays off. He worked for 15 years as a
deputy public defender before former Public Defender Kimiko Burton
fired him from his management position in the office. Adachi
defeated Burton in a high-profile race where Adachi won with 55
percent of the vote to Burton's 45 percent. Burton is the daughter
of California State Senator John Burton, one of the most powerful
politicians in the State. After being elected as San Francisco's
first Asian American and Japanese American public defender two years
agothe only Asian American to head a public defender's office in
the U.S.Adachi has made changes to strengthen his legal team and
help the needy both inside and outside of the courtroom.
His first priority was hiring more attorneys. When Adachi took
office he had 68 attorneys and 36 members on his support staff and a
$13.2 million budget. He had a study conducted on how to increase
staff but help the city save money. Now Adachi has 90 attorneys and
a 50-person support staff, with a $17 million budget.
According to statistics from 2003, attorneys in the felony unit
handled an average of 168 cases a year, with a caseload of 56 at any
given time. The misdemeanor unit handled 748 cases a year per
attorney, with 125 cases at any given time. The juvenile unit
handled 245 cases per attorney a year, with 54 at any given time.
More than 15 percent of Adachi's attorneys are Asian Americans. Four
of the attorneys are Japanese Americans. "Each case involves an
individual who is in a certain situation where they need help," said
Adachi, who worked as a sole practitioner after he was fired by
Burton and while he was running for public defender. "Sometimes you
work with people who are in unfortunate situations. But, there are
cases where a client you defended could be found innocent of the
charges, like in the John Tennison case." Fifteen years ago,
Tennison and Anton Goff were arrested in connection with a homicide-
gang shooting in San Francisco's Sunnydale neighborhood. Both men
were convicted of murder, but through the work of Adachi, the public
defender's investigation unit and help from the San Francisco law
firm Keker and Van Nest, new evidence surfaced which exonerated both
men last August.
One of Adachi's goals is to help reform the juvenile justice system.
His attorneys handle 1,400 youth cases a year, with 28.7 percent of
the youth identified as Asian Pacific Islander. He knows working
with the youth at an early age can help deter them from going
through the system. The Public Defender's Office has an education
specialist and social worker who help juveniles with problems. In
April, the San Francisco Public Defender's Juvenile Justice Summit
was held at the Civic Center Main Library Koret Auditorium. This all-
day summit brought together a variety of speakers and youth who want
to make this system more efficient and helpful to everyone involved.
The Public Defender's Office also has a Clean Slate Program which
helps people clear their records of arrests and convictions. Adachi
said this is important because having a criminal record can make
life more difficult for people, including finding a job, housing and
receiving financial aid.
No appointments are necessary for these services, which are
available on Tuesdays from 9 to 11 a.m. at 555 Seventh St. and on
Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon at the Southeast Community Facility
Commission, 1800 Oakdale in Bayview-Hunters Point in San Francisco.
For more information, call (415) 553-9337.
Adachi is not up for re-election until 2006. He said the most
difficult part of running in a campaign was having his life exposed
to the public. "It can be difficult for someone to become a public
person and speak before many people," said Adachi. "It is not easy
for someone to hear comments made about yourself you know are not
true either. There is a lot involved in politics and running in a
campaign. Raising money is only one aspect of it." Public speaking
seems to come naturally for Adachi, who has spoken at several of
AABA's events, including the Annual AABA Installation Dinner. He has
also inspired many people to take action on a variety of causes.
Although he does not have time to participate in as many community
groups as in the past, he feels all of these experiences have helped
him mature and matriculate into his current position.
Among his past accomplishments are being the former president of the
Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (1991), co-
president of the San Francisco chapter of the Japanese American
Citizens League, and he spearheaded the Asian American Arts
Foundation. He is also a published author, a former musician and has
taught bar review classes. Now Adachi spends much time with work
revolving around his job.
"I am grateful to AABA for all the support they gave me over the
years and when I ran in the election," he said. "I will always be
involved with AABA." Adachi enjoys spending his free time with his
wife Mitsuko and playing with his four-year-old daughter Lauren, who
attends the Nihonmachi Little Friends childcare center in Japantown.
His wife serves on the NLF board of directors.
Adachi said he will never forget everyone who helped him in his bid
to become public defender.
"I had to work very hard to get where I am today and I am very
grateful to everyone who helped me along the way," he said. "It is
important to have high morale in my office and this is done by
"I cannot think of any other job I would rather have than working as
a public defender," said Adachi, who has personally worked on two
cases, including one involving murder, since becoming the public
defender. "I always loved working with clients and being in the
courtroom. I do not have time to handle many cases like before, but
even the public defender can still try cases and go to court."