By Serafin COLMENARES Jr.
Simeon Acoba Jr., former Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice, has been selected as the recipient of this year’s Dr. Jose P. Rizal Award for Peace and Social Justice.
The annual award, sponsored by the Knights of Rizal-Hawaii Chapter, will be given during the 9th Dr. Jose P. Rizal Award Gala on Saturday, August 24, 2019 at the Hibiscus Ballroom of the Ala Moana Hotel. Sir Lutgardo Barbo, KGOR, deputy supreme commander of the Knights of Rizal, will present the award, assisted by Sir Arnold Villafuerte, KGOR, Western USA deputy regional commander, Sir Raymund Liongson, KGOR, Hawaii area commander, and Sir Danny Villaruz, KCR, KOR-Hawaii Chapter commander.
The Award is given to an individual whose works embody Rizalian precepts and ideals. Open to all nationalities residing in Hawaii, the award is given to someone who shows exceptional leadership, achievement, service and advocacy in the promotion of change through peaceful means, intercultural understanding, social justice, and democratic principles.
The Award is named after Dr. Jose P. Rizal, the Philippines foremost national hero. He is most well-known for his struggle for freedom and equality, his devotion to an educated citizenry, his literary works, and keen scientific mind.
Past recipients of the Dr. Jose Rizal Award include: Dr. Belinda Aquino, the late Dr. Jorge Camara, Dr. Amy Agbayani, Engr. Lito Alcantra, Dr. Ramon Sy, Dr. Charlie Sonido, Bea Ramos-Razon, and Dr. Mark Silliman.
Justice Acoba was selected for this Award because of his service to the people of Hawaii as a practicing lawyer, judge, justice, educator, and community volunteer.
He served as a judge in Hawaii for 35 years and has served at every level of the state court system. Born in Honolulu on March 11, 1944, Justice Acoba is a graduate of Farrington High School and the University of Hawaii. He obtained his law degree from Northwestern University School of Law. He clerked for the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Richardson and worked as Deputy Attorney General for the State of Hawaii before engaging in the private practice of law in both state and federal courts. He was appointed Circuit Court Judge by Governor George Ariyoshi, appointed Associate Judge in the Intermediate Court of Appeals by Governor John Waihee, and then appointed as Associate Justice in the Hawaii Supreme Court from 2000 to 2014 by Governor Ben Cayetano. As a judge, he was one of the most prolific jurists and has issued numerous opinions protecting the rights of individuals under the constitution.
According to Jessica Domingo, president of the Hawaii Filipino Lawyers Association, “Justice Acoba has been a leader in the area of access to justice in Hawaii. He was the founding Chair of the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission (HAJC). His steadfast commitment to expanding access to justice for all has been instrumental in ensuring that the people of Hawaii have access to courts at every level. As the Chair of the HAJC, Justice Acoba has shown leadership through collaboration and coordination with various organizations to deliver civil legal services to low-income Hawaii residents. During his time as Chair, HAJC partnered with the Judiciary, the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, Americorps, and state and local bar associations to open Access to Justice Rooms in courthouses across the State. Throughout his service on various HAJC committees, he has been influential in planning and implementing projects that reduce language and cultural barriers to the civil justice system.”
Justice Acoba is also an educator with a firm commitment to Hawaii’s future generations. He held academic positions at the University of Hawaii and taught at Hawaii Pacific University and at the University of Hawaii Law School.
In 2015, Justice Acoba and his wife Carolyn endowed a new annual tuition scholarship at the William S. Richardson School of Law targeting students from public high schools. He has also been very supportive of the Hawaii Filipino Lawyers Association (HFLA), many of whose members were his former clerks, interns and students. With Justice Acoba’s mentorship and encouragement, HFLA members have not only achieved excellence in the legal profession; they too have taken on mentorship roles to law students and young lawyers – bridging their education into the practice of law and helping them serve their communities. Domingo sees him “as a beacon for social justice and an inspiration to all.”
Justice Acoba also serves on several boards, including as president of the Hawaii State Bar Association, director of the Hawaii Justice Foundation, and member of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, to name a few.
He said of his work: “As an attorney in private practice, my focus was on providing assistance and guidance, oftentimes in stressful circumstances to individuals, families and entities in resolving legal issues.
“As a judge in trial court the aim was to bring about just results in the cases before the court with fairness and compassion.
“As a justice on the Supreme Court the objective was to maximize the rule of law, to reach decisions that were equitable to the parties, and to consider the impact a decision may have on the welfare and future of the state community as a whole.”
Justice Acoba has received multiple awards; some of them are the Filipino Community Center Lifetime Achievement Award, the Dwight D. Opperman Award for Judicial Excellence from the American Judicature Society, the Hawaii State Bar Association’s Golden Gavel Award and President’s Award.
For more information about the Dr. Jose P. Rizal Award Gala, contact Sir Raymund Liongson at 381-4315, Sir Danny Villaruz at 778-0233, or Sir Jerry Felicitas at 864-1488.
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