Cover Story

Madam Justice of the Third District Court of Appeal:
Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye

Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-SakauyeTani Gorre Cantil joined a family of two brothers and one sister on October 19, 1959. Tani, a second generation Asian American, grew up in Sacramento with a beautiful Filipina mother who worked as a farm worker and a Filipino/Portuguese father, born in Hawaii, who worked in the sugarcane and pineapple plantations before coming to Sacramento. Her mother and father met at a Sacramento soda fountain. Through the family tradition of hard work and saving money they successfully educated all four of their children. However, having enough money to pay for school meant that Tani and her siblings never saw potato chips, soda or new clothes. For years, Christmas presents were a shower cap and a robe, while Tani's classmate down the street received emerald earrings, a pearl necklace and skis for Christmas. Tani never believed in Santa Claus because of the disparity in gifts that were received.

Tani learned from her parents that hard work would lead to a promising future. Education was an expectation and when Tani graduated from McClatchy High School in 1977, she crossed the street to attend Sacramento City College as a speech and debate major. Tani was involved in the speech and debate club in high school and loved the challenge of thinking and speaking on her feet. Graduating with an associate degree one year later in 1978, Tani spent six months at Cal Poly as a liberal arts major. Six months was long enough to know that being at the beach was hardly conducive to studying, so second semester found her enrolled at UC Davis. While in school, Tani waited tables at AJ Bumps and made more in tips than she did her first year as a lawyer.

As a young teenager, Tani's mother took her to hear a speech by Gloria Ochoa, a Filipina woman lawyer. Although she doesn't recall exactly what Gloria said, Tani remembers who she was, what she did, and, most importantly, saw what she could become. Tani's love of speech and debate only validated her interest becoming a lawyer. She was also encouraged to be a lawyer by those around her. At UC Davis she majored in rhetoric and knew she would apply to law school upon graduation in 1980. After a year of leisure and meeting relatives in the Philippines, she started law school at King Hall.

Tani enjoyed the challenge, stimulation, and comradery of law school. She involved herself with issues facing minorities, including celebrations of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Through her parents' struggles, she was aware of discrimination. Her personal experience of growing up in Land Park as the only Asian American family also made her keenly aware of the struggles that people of color faced. She recalls being asked how long she had been in America due to her command of English despite her being a California native. These experiences have framed her compassion and understanding of those parties appearing before her.

Upon graduation, Tani could not find a job. So as not to waste precious time, Tani honed her skills as a blackjack dealer in Reno but not for long. Although the Public Defender's Office would not hire her because she was too young, she followed the advice of the Honorable Russell Hom, then at the Sacramento District Attorney's Office, and applied at the District Attorney's Office. Her legal career was off and running.

In 1988, an elementary school friend, Kirk Louie, asked Tani to interview for his job as the Deputy Legal Affairs counsel to Governor Deukmejian in 1988. During the next two years, she worked on the most sensitive matters with Justice Vance Raye, who at that time was the Governor's Legal Affairs Secretary. When the Governor left office in 1990, Tani was appointed to Sacramento Municipal Court as the youngest judge to sit on the bench.

As a judge, Tani's most memorable cases are when juveniles are tried as adults. Those are difficult cases and stay with her. She looks forward to the challenge of her new position on the Third District Court of Appeal. She is eager to have the time to read, research and discuss cases with other attorneys and her colleagues.

Tani has two daughters, Hana, age eight, and Clair, age six. Her husband of 10 years, Mark Sakauye, proudly supports Tani in her professional career and community involvement. Her role as a mother includes being a Brownie leader and co-chair of the Japanese United Methodist Church Girls Division Basketball League.

January / February 2005