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Fujie elected 3rd woman president

Los Angeles lawyer Holly J. Fujie was elected the third woman president of the State Bar last month and vowed to work her colleagues harder, reach out to young lawyers and take a close look at the bar’s fiscal operations. The 52-year-old shareholder in Buchalter Nemer was elected on the first ballot and will be sworn in as the bar’s 84th leader Sept. 27 in Monterey.

Holly J. Fujie

In an unprecedented election in which all three candidates were women, Fujie outpolled Dannah “Danni” Murphy, 60, an assistant public defender in Orange County, and Carmen Ramirez, 59, a longtime legal aid lawyer in Ventura.

Two other vice presidents of the board, John McNicholas of Los Angeles and James Penrod of San Francisco, did not run.

Only two other women have been elected bar president — Margaret Morrow (1993), now a federal judge in Los Angeles, and Karen Nobumoto (2001), a Los Angeles deputy district attorney. More than a dozen women have run unsuccessful campaigns since 1989.

A commercial litigator, Fujie said she was “very, very excited and very proud” to have been elected.

She grew up in a predominantly African American neighborhood in West Oakland, where she was one of a handful of Asian children. “I have experience that not that many people have,” she said. Fujie recalled attending a luncheon, where she sat near the dais, and chatting afterwards with another Japanese-American, California Appellate Justice Kathryn Doi Todd, whose family was interned during World War II. “She said she was so proud of me,” Fujie said. “I thought, ‘if I can do that just by sitting there, what could I do to inspire people of all sorts?’”

Fujie said her greatest strength is her ability to communicate and said she will spend some of her year-long term trying to connect with California’s young lawyers, who are not participating in bar activities in large numbers. “We have to do something quickly,” she said. “They need to find a way to make a meaningful contribution.”

Fujie added that across the board, there are “a lot of disaffected people in the bar” and she hopes to increase lawyer interest and participation in the coming year.

During a question-and-answer period before the election, Fujie also said she will look for ways to save money, given the bar’s somewhat precarious financial position, and will continue oversight of the discipline system. She chairs the board’s discipline committee and said she questions whether the intake department that hears consumer complaints operates efficiently.

In addition, she stressed a need for long-range planning. “In general, in the next 10 years, we have to make sure the bar stays current or ahead of the game,” she said.

Fujie is married to Lee Cotugno, a small firm lawyer in Beverly Hills who practices employment law. He was her moot court advisor at Boalt Hall, and the couple married the day after she finished law school. They have a daughter, Sabrina, 18, a freshman at the California Institute of the Arts, and an 11-year-old son, Thomas, who will start sixth grade in the fall.

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