The Associated Press
Published: April 19, 2008
LOS ANGELES: Ester Soriano, a Filipino-American civil rights activist who was the jury foreperson in the civil damages trial of Rodney King, has died. She was 61.
Soriano died April 3 in a Los Angeles hospital from complications after surgery for liver cancer, said her sister, Emily Deitrich.
She served as jury foreperson in the civil case that King brought against the city. King, who was black, was beaten by several white officers in 1991, an incident caught on tape that would help spark a race riot the next year.
Soriano facilitated a discussion between jurors who were split on whether King should be awarded significant punitive damages.
The jury awarded King $3.8 million (€2.41 million) in compensatory damages but no punitive damages.
“She was trying to be fair and listen to both sides like she always did,” said Deitrich. “But later she said she thought he should have gotten more money” and punitive damages.
A nationally recognized pioneer in mediation, Soriano worked 37 years for the county and created its Dispute Resolution Program.
She helped found several social service and political groups, including the Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, the Asian American Drug Abuse Program, the Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment, and the National Committee for the Restoration of Civil Liberties in the Philippines.
Soriano was born in Santa Paula, a small city in Ventura County, to Filipino migrant farm workers and graduated from Whittier College in 1968.
She married to Raymond ‘Masai’ Hewitt, a former member of the Black Panthers, who died in 1988. She was survived by three sons, Robert, Eduardo and Eric Soriano-Hewitt, and two siblings.