Long-serving court clerk was good cook, golfer, friend


POSTED: Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Walter A.Y.H. Chinn, who served 10 chief judges in 39 years as chief clerk of the federal court in Hawaii and oversaw the move to the new federal courthouse and the modernization of the clerk's office, died April 4 of cancer in Seattle. He was 70.

“;He was the only clerk of court that I knew from my earliest days as a lawyer until the day he retired,”; said District Judge David Ezra, who was chief judge when Chinn retired in 2005. “;His passing is a tremendous loss to everyone who knew him.”;

Former Chief Judge Martin Pence promoted Chinn to chief clerk in 1966. Chinn was the youngest-ever chief clerk and was the longest-serving chief clerk in the federal court system when he retired.

When Chinn began his career, he and colleagues used a ruler to go over lists of registered voters and select jurors every two inches, and court documents were typed using carbon paper.

Chinn supervised the transition to computers but always emphasized customer service, said Allan Rapoza, who served as Chinn's administrative assistant for 15 years.

“;One of his cardinal rules was that nobody ever waits,”; Rapoza said.

Under Chinn's watch the federal courthouse developed a reputation for customer service.

Chinn would even work the public counter and file documents to make sure people did not have to wait, Rapoza said.

Chinn also worked to protect his employees from layoffs, something Chinn called “;protecting the rice bowl,”; Rapoza said.

“;During the budget shortage, we were one of the few federal courts in the entire United States that did not have to lay off a single employee,”; Ezra said.

Chinn was a golfer who maintained a single-digit handicap until he fell ill. He also was an avid cook famous in the courthouse for his pickled daikon, which he would regularly give to fellow workers, Rapoza said.

Chinn spent his retirement “;playing golf, cooking and taking care of friends,”; said longtime friend Fred Sims. “;What a gracious fellow he was,”; Sims said.

Chinn graduated from Roosevelt High School and the University of Hawaii. He started with the federal court as a deputy clerk in 1964.

A celebration of Chinn's life will be held Friday in the 'Aha Nonoi courtroom at the U.S. District Court building at 3 p.m.

Chinn is survived by wife Yong Nan, son Gregory, stepson Michael Quon, stepdaughters Linda Haro and Monica Quon, brother Clarence Y.L., sister Geraldine L. Choy and two grandchildren.