In 1996, a small group of attorneys met informally to discuss forming a Vietnamese American bar association. A steering committee was formed to organize and build interest and support. In January 1998, the Vietnamese Bar Association of Northern California (VABANC) inaugurated its first officers, with Jacqueline Duong as president.
During its first year, the Association hosted a luncheon with the Hon. James Chang, a picnic, a student mixer sponsored by the international law firm Baker & McKenzie, an informational booth at the Tet Festival, and a Tet Installation dinner.
VABANC also began its tradition of community service. One of its officers, Candice Nguyen, led an effort to assist Vietnamese Americans who had problems with public housing in San Francisco. VABANC participated in a public censure of a Morgan Hill City Council member who made a racial remark against a fellow Council member.
The Bar Association, along with other Vietnamese American groups, held a candidates’ forum to familiarize Vietnamese American voters with the candidates and to educate candidates on the concerns of Vietnamese Americans.
Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court Ming Chin swore in the officers of the second term, led by president Henry H. Liem. VABANC hosted annual summer picnics, a seminar on immigration law, a luncheon with California’s Attorney General Bill Lockyer, and a forum for candidates running for public office.
VABANC welcomed its third set of officers with Rose-Claire Chapuis as president. Ms. Van Hoang Tran led a legal seminar designed to assist Vietnamese American small businesses. VABANC continued its presence at the Tet Festival in Santa Clara County and other community events. Ms. Chapuis began a popular series of informal lunches and social gatherings and hosted a student mixer in San Francisco.
In 2002, Paul Bick Nguyen became VABANC’s fourth president. The organization launched its annual Scholarship Dinner to recognize outstanding Bay Area law students. The Hon. Thang Barrett delivered the first keynote address in 2003, while United States Magistrate Judge Tu Pham (W.D.Tenn.), the first Vietnamese American federal magistrate judge, addressed the 2004 event. These dinners attracted judges, elected officials, sponsorships by major law firms and legal organizations, and hundreds of supporters from the community.
Duy Thai became president in late 2004. During this time, VABANC increased its outreach to the Vietnamese American legal community throughout the Bay Area, especially in San Francisco and the East Bay – and beyond. Duy was VABANC’s first president from San Francisco and, at the Annual Scholarship Dinner, Wendy Duong, a law professor from the University of Denver and believed to be the first Vietnamese American to hold a judicial post when she was a municipal judge in Houston in the early 1990’s, gave the keynote address. VABANC also launched its website, raised its profile among other Vietnamese American community organizations and events, and increased participation among law students and major law firms.
Candice Nguyen Hamant’s tenure as president in 2006 saw some remarkable developments. Foremost, VABANC successfully hosted the first ever National Conference of Vietnamese American Attorneys in San Jose. Originally conceived as a statewide conference, its lead organizer Jacqueline My-Le Duong was persuaded by the enthusiasm and dedication of many tireless VABANC volunteers to go all the way and make it national. We were deeply inspired in welcoming Vietnamese American attorneys from throughout the United States and in seeing, gathered in one panel, every Vietnamese American judge in the country. We greatly enjoyed our formal collaboration with the Vietnamese American Bar Association of Southern California, who was a co-sponsor of the conference.
This national involvement continued during Minh T. Hoang’s presidency in 2007, when VABANC member and future president Mai D. Phan organized a legal aid clinic for Vietnamese Americans in the Gulf Region impacted by Hurricane Katrina. VABANC also collaborated with VABA-Southern California in organizing the second National Conference of Vietnamese American Attorneys, convened in Orange County, and produced a series of Vietnamese language radio programs on legal issues. We continued to expand VABANC’s reach among lawyers of all practice backgrounds. Minh and Candice Hamant before her were the first VABANC presidents to balance responsibilities to the organization with the demands of large law firm careers.
VABANC members and officers continue to make an impact outside the organization. In 2007, Jacqui Duong was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the Santa Clara County Superior Court bench. In addition, long-time VABANC board members Andrew Vu and Thanh Ngo became presidents of the Asian Pacific Bar Association of Silicon Valley in 2005 and 2007.
2008 marked an incredible milestone as VABANC celebrated our 10th Year Anniversary. The relationships we have built in the past ten years among the Vietnamese American attorneys, the Vietnamese American law students, and the legal community at large have allowed us to continue to grow as a bar association. In response to the March 2008 US-VIETNAM MOU on the repatriation of removable Vietnamese citizens, VABANC immediately organized for the very first time, a pro-bono immigration law clinic for the San Jose Vietnamese Community at the Tully Community Branch Library. Attorneys and law students volunteered and assisted over one hundred families facing deportation issues. VABANC also participated, for the first time, at the annual Santa Clara County Citizenship’s Day, in which attorneys volunteered to assist individuals and families with their naturalization cases. This event provides assistance to over 1,000 individuals annually. VABANC proudly hosted the the 3rd Annual National Conference of Vietnamese American Attorneys (NCVAA) in San Francisco with co-chairs Minh Hoang and Ann N. Nguyen on August 2008 and celebrated our 10th Annual Scholarship Dinner in conjuction with the conference. The conference was attended by over 200 attorneys nationwide, convening at Golden Gate University for a one day MCLE workshop.
In 2010, during the presidency of Quyen Ta, the VABANC Law Foundation was formed and VABANC provided it’s first ever $30,000 Public Interest Fellowship. Nikki Dinh was selected as VABANC’s first fellow and worked at APILO in San Francisco where she serves the Asian American community. The National Vietnamese American Bar Association was formed in 2010 and a dim sum breakfast was held in Los Angeles during the NAPABA convention. Mai Phan provided remarks, and Ann N. Nguyen presented Judge Jacqueline Duong with a plaque for her support. A Foreclosure Clinic was held by VABANC and co-hosted by the City of San Jose where information about the foreclosure process and foreclosure assistance scams were addressed.
Also in 2010, VABANC received a call from community leaders in the Gulf following the BP Oil Spill requesting the assistance of pro bono Vietnamese speaking attorneys. Mai Phan and Thuy Thi Nguyen lead a team of over 20 attorneys to assist by hosting a series of pro bono legal clinics in three states conducted in Vietnamese. The team included VABANC members Sang Nguyen. Nhung Le, Peter Ton, and Ann N. Nguyen. A white paper addressing the issues affecting the Vietnamese American Community in the Gulf was submitted to Congress where it was cited by Congress in hearings concerning the Oil Spill. VABANC’s involvement in the clinics in the Gulf was highlighted in numerous media outlets including the Daily Journal, Oakland Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Lawyers Magazine, NBC Channel 11 News, and Channel 5 News.
In 2011, VABANC revamped its website, newsletter, as well as membership system, and launched its first ever monthly pro bono clinics in San Jose, California in collaboration with KGACLC. San Jose has been cited as the city with the largest concentration of Vietnamese Americans in the nation and 2011 VABANC president, Ann N. Nguyen proudly emphasized the strong need to have such an important community resource. VABANC continued its presence at the Tet Festival in San Jose by providing handouts with free legal resources to the Vietnamese American community. VABANC hosted a Mentor-Mentee Brunch in April of 2011 in San Jose and VABANC hosted a well attended Kick-Off Fellowship Event at APILO in San Francisco with a full house of attorneys and community leaders.
Also in April of 2011, Ann N. Nguyen, was invited to speak at the National Conference of Vietnamese American Attorneys in Washington D.C. on a panel regarding the effects of the Oil Spill on Vietnamese Americans in the Gulf. In May of 2011, VABANC hosted a Membership Drive at Netflix in Los Gatos and during the same month, was honored by the Friends of Hue Foundation for its community service work, and held a reception for Chief Judge of the California Supreme Court, Honorable Judge Tani Cantil-Sakauye at Keker and Van Nest in June of 2011. VABANC collaborated with KABANC, FBANC, and SABANC, in hosting joint mixer at 111 Minna in San Francisco.
Nguyen D. Luu’s tenure as president in 2016 saw the return of NCVAA to San Jose after 10 years, where VABANC co-hosted the very first conference in 2006. Originally, a joint effort spearheaded by VABANC and VABASC alternatively during 2006-2009, NCVAA was subsequently incorporated in 2010. VABANC proudly co-hosted the 2016 conference as part of its 18th Annual Scholarship Dinner. The conference was well attended by local elected officials and convened almost every siting judge of Vietnamese heritage in the U.S. Over 500 guests from all over the U.S. and as far as Micronesia and Vietnam attended the conference.
The conference was also a celebration of many notable distinctions in the Vietnamese American community and highlighted many “first” including the first Asian-American female to serve as a federal appellate judge, Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American to clerk for two US Supreme Court Justices, Professor Joseph Thai, the first Asian American judge in Virginia, Judge John Tran, the first Vietnamese American Judge in California, Judge Thang Barret, the first female Vietnamese American Judge in California , Judge Jacqualine Duong, the first Vietnamese American Administrative Judge of USPTO, Judge Anh Thu Dang, and the first Vietnamese American writer to win a Pulitzer prize, Professor Viet Thanh Nguyen.
We are honored to have esteemed guests Professor Joseph Thai from the University of Oklahoma School of Law, Dr. Tung Thanh Nguyen, Chair of President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Pulitzer Prize winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen as our keynote speakers. We congratulate Ann A. P. Nguyen as a most deserving recipient of the 2016 Trailblazer Award, and we are excited to recognize Art Nguyen as our public interest law student scholarship recipient and Jaimini Parekh as the VABANC Law Foundation (VLF) fellow. The conference’s inspiring and enormous success jump-started the following year conference in Southern California hosted by our sister organization VABASC.
This brief history cannot capture all of the efforts of those that participated in VABANC’s formation and growth. We thank everyone who has contributed to this organization, providing their support and encouragement. In particular, we are grateful for the support of the members of the judiciary. We are excited to continue this tradition of excellence and achievement for many more years to come!