As a court commissioner in Pima County Juvenile Court, Joan Wagener became known for giving books to the children and parents in her courtroom.
On Friday, the tables were turned and Wagener was the recipient of a special book at her investiture ceremony in Pima County Superior Court.
Wagener, who Gov. Jan Brewer appointed to the bench in May, was named the most recent steward of a copy of the famous children’s book by Shel Silverstein, “The Giving Tree.”
“It’s a great metaphor for our responsibility and our need to give to the community,” Wagener said in an interview prior to the investiture.
The book traces the relationship between a boy and tree as the boy travels through life.
Wagener, 50, received the copy of the book as part of a tradition of the Arizona Asian American Bar Association, which started a tradition of passing the traveling copy of the book to each new Asian American judge.
Wagener, who is Japanese American and the first female jurist of Japanese descent in the state, is the sixth Arizona judge to receive the traveling copy of the book.
The tradition dates to the 1990s, when the State Bar of Arizona Committee on Minorities and Women in the Law gave then Judge Thomas Tang a copy of the book.
Tang — a Phoenix-area private attorney who later worked as a prosecutor, Phoenix City Councilman and Maricopa County Superior Court judge — was appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1977.
He was the first Chinese American appointed to the federal bench.
After Tang’s death in 1995, his wife, Pearl Tang, remembered her husband’s enjoyment of the book and his understanding of its message of service and sacrifice. She wanted that same message to be passed along to other jurists.
In 1997, Pima County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Lee became the inaugural recipient of “The Giving Tree.”
Pima County Superior Court Judge Paul Tang, no relation to Thomas Tang, was the second jurist to receive the book.
Paul Tang said he was honored to be a part of the tradition, especially because of the respect Thomas Tang had earned among his peers.
“He was a mentor to many of us,” Paul Tang said.
He said the tradition helps to remind judges of roles they play in a society and the service they give.
“We think of what we do as public service,” Paul Tang said. “It’s a challenging job and a weighty one.”
Paul Tang and Pima County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Lee presented Wagener with the copy of “The Giving Tree.”
Wagener, too, said the tradition reminds her of the trust a society places on judges.
“If you can do something, I think you should just do it,” she said.
Wagener she said she was drawn to the legal profession at a young age after reading a book about environmental law.
After graduating law school from the University of Arizona in 1988, Wagener said she found her passion in family law and advocacy for children in the juvenile system.
“I guess there’s the underdog, I’ve always had a real passion for the underdog,” she said.
For the past 14 years Wagener has been a court commissioner on the family law and juvenile benches. Now as a fully vested judge, she has returned to the juvenile bench.
Arizona Supreme Court Judge Robert M. Brutinel presided over Wagener’s swearing in.
Also in attendance at the ceremony were Supreme Court Justices John Pelander and Chief Justice Scott Bales.