Monday, March 14, 2011
DIVERSITY IN JUSTICE: JUDGE RAFFINAN AIMS TO BE FAIR JUDGE
Washington DC Superior Court Associate Justice Maribeth Raffinan is convinced her Filipino roots will help make her a good judge.
She is the first and highest ranking Fil-Am in a federal-administered court.
“It’s important for the judiciary to have a lot of diversity in the bench because it brings a lot of different values and perspectives,” she told us.
“It’s important to think about where you came from and as a Filipino-American I think that’s what’s important to me,” she stressed.
Judge Raffinan was appointed by President Obama last July and was confirmed by the US Senate on Sept. 30. She will serve a 15-year term.
She spoke before members of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce and Philippine American Bar Association of Metro DC over the weekend.
It quickly became a celebration of “Filipino-ness”.
John Cabrera, president of the Metro DC PACC, said he chose the venue – the East Street Café – because unknown to most Fil-Ams who take the Amtrak or travel through Union Station, the restaurant is Filipino-owned.
Judge Raffinan said she accepted the PACC and PABA invite because “I want to make sure Filipino-Americans know that I’m here to support them and that I’m proud to be Filipino-American.”
Born Maria Elizabeth Raffinan, she joked that her mother got tired of writing her full name when she started going to school, so she became known simply as Maribeth to friends.
Her parents are Drs. Jun and Maria Raffinan of Cebu province.
The family first settled near Cincinnati, Ohio.
“We started in the small town of Hillsboro which had a population of 6,000 people but there were 5 Filipino families there and I can tell you this – we dominated that town – for good and for bad,” she intimated, drawing laughter from her audience.
“I think it was because we really saw all 5 families as a unit. We stayed in each other’s house, we ate dinner at each other’s home, and that was where I also first saw the 8-track karaoke machine,” she continued.
“We sang together, we ate together and we of course went to Mass together,” Raffinan averred.
She’s visited the Philippines 6 times and says with pride, has ridden one of those notorious provincial buses to visit her mother’s hometown outside Cebu City.
The family later moved to the Tampa region in Florida where her parents built a successful practice.
The Raffinans are well-known there, mainly because of her parent’s philanthropic work.
She would attend Boston College in Massachusetts, graduating in 1992. She then pursued a law degree at the Columbus School of Law in the Catholic University of America in Washington DC.
Judge Raffinan spent 11 years with the District’s Public Defenders Office, defending indigent suspects who would occasionally throw some racial slurs at the young lawyer.
It was tough, she confessed, but her experience there became one of the central themes of her message to Fil-Ams – the need to slog it out, to be strong and endure.
When she applied for the Superior Court position, she got the backing of the PABA.
“When I reached out to Asian Bar they may not have immediately jumped to endorse me but the first people who came to me and said we are here for you – tell us about who you are and what you need – was the Philippine American Bar Association,” Judge Raffinan said.
But her true pillar of strength is her family.
“I have an amazing husband who supports me both with the kids and my work,” she declares proudly.
Husband Efrem Levy enthused he was smitten the first time he saw Judge Raffinan. They were introduced by colleagues working with the Public Defenders Office who were Levy’s chums from law school.
They have two kids – 4-year-old Leah and 19-month-old Jonah.
“The kids are so proud of their mom and we’re having fun,” he tells us when asked if they’ve adjusted to life with a newly-appointed judge.
“It’s been terrific,” he added.
“I feel very honored and privileged that I have this opportunity to serve in this kind of public service,” Judge Raffinan said.
“The most important thing is to be certain that as a judge I serve the DC community, to be fair and impartial to everyone who comes before me. I hope to be known as a fair judge,” she stressed.