HSBA Diversity Equality and Inclusion Member Spotlight: Annalisa Bernard

Annalisa Bernard was featured in the Hawaii State Bar Association’s newsletter for June 2022. The following is the text from that feature or you can read the complete newsletter online.

Annalisa Bernard Maui Lawyer with Wong Leong Cuccia

Annalisa Milca Bernard is an attorney at Wong Leong Cuccia, a Maui women owned law firm. Annalisa clerked for the Honorable Judge Derrick H.M. Chan (ret) and Judge Michael A. Town (ret) before working at the Maui Prosecutor Office and Public Defenders. She is Filipino, Puerto Rican, Hawai‘ian, Portuguese, English, Irish and German and born and raised on Maui.

What is your biggest accomplishment in your career?
Winning my first Jury Trial as a young Public Defender was probably one of my most notable accomplishments as it gave me the confidence, motivation, and goal to become a great trial attorney.

What has been your biggest obstacle in your career?
Being a mother to my two children is by far the most rewarding gift life has given me. However, getting two children to school, soccer, and other after school activities on time, while also balancing a career that entails being in court every day, can sometimes feel like I’m running an obstacle course! Nonetheless, we make it work and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What are your family ties to Hawai’i?
My Father’s family has been in Hawai’i for generations. My father met my mother while he was stationed at the Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines during the Vietnam war. After his tour of duty, he brought his Filipina Bride home to Maui, where they married and started a family.

What do you do to make people from all backgrounds feel like they belong?
My mother, who immigrated here from the Philippines, and with English is her second language, was a custodian at the Maui Community College. I remember how special she felt that the professors and heads of administration at the college made her feel appreciated and included. Understanding how this made her feel has always made me strive to treat every person that I work with (client, witness, clerk, court staff, opposing counsel) with equal kindness and respect, regardless of their socioeconomic background, ethnicity, gender, education, or nationality.

Have you encountered any biases or prejudices, and if so, what did you do to overcome these biases?
As a minority female attorney in a field that has been historically dominated by white men, I have surely felt some biases and prejudices throughout my career. When I walk into a courtroom and meet someone for the first time, I sometimes have to consciously make it a point to overcome those prejudices and prove that I am as smart, talented, and confident as my male counterparts. Thankfully here in Hawai’i, as opposed to other parts of our Country, those types of biases and prejudices are not as prevalent and have been few and far between, in my experience.

How could Hawai‘i improve to promote diversity, equity and inclusion and eliminate bias?
I appreciate that the Judiciary, the Hawai’i State bar, and our Legislature has been making a public effort to promote more diversity in our legal Community. I am hopeful that if we continue to have this conversation with one another and to stand strong in support of this movement, that we continue to see more positive changes.

Who is your role model?
I have two role models: Patsy Mink and my mother. I grew up hearing the story of how my young father wrote a letter to Congresswoman Patsy Mink. My father needed help bringing my Filipina mother from the Philippines to Hawai’i and it was Patsy Mink, “one ‘akamai’ Maui girl who fights for the people of Hawai’i,” who made it happen. I wanted to be like her one day. I also strive to be like my mother: humble, kind, empathetic, appreciative, and always willing to help those less fortunate than herself.

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