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Okinawa’s Pioneer Foreign Lawyer Champions Children’s Rights

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 1999-12-10

One woman has managed to make a great difference and impact on the lives of several people in Okinawa by accomplishing what is generally considered here as a major difficulty: she has overcome huge obstacles and obtained the license to practice private law in Okinawa. Annette Eddie-Callagain, a pioneer of high repute, is now making a big mark on this small island. Since April of 1995, she has been in private practice in Okinawa, representing members of the US Military community and, surprisingly, several Japanese women.

Annette M. Eddie-Callagain, a former Judge Advocate General (JAG), is the only foreign lawyer in Okinawa, and the only African American lawyer in private practice all over Japan. Her firm’s clientele is 85 percent military and 15 percent Japanese. She has clients in Osaka, Fukuoka and Okinawa.

For the lady to realize her dream of practicing law in Okinawa was no easy matter. At the end of a process filled with endless paperwork, and which took almost one year to complete, Eddie-Callagain was accepted as member of the Bar Association in Okinawa. "In order to be able to practice law in Okinawa, the understanding is that you will not take any work away from Japanese lawyers. You have to carve out your own niche," says Eddie-Callagain.

A large number of her clients are Okinawan women who have had children with American military men. Quite often, the woman and child (or children) are literally discarded once the men have their orders back to the states. As a free service, Eddie-Callagain finds "deadbeat" fathers and attempts to persuade them to assume their parental responsibilities.

Annette M. Eddie-Callagain grew up in New Iberia, Louisiana and attended Southern University in Baton Rough for her undergraduate degree in Business Education. She then went on to teach at a high school in Omaha, Nebraska, and in 1978 entered law school at Southern University.

Annette M. Eddie-Callagain had already been practicing when she decided to apply for a position in the Air Force as a JAG in 1983. She served in the Air Force for 11 years and 8 months, before separating from the service under a reduction-in-force buyout program in January 1995. She joined the Air Force Reserves, attached to Yokota Air Base Legal Office in Japan, serving in the rank of Major.

Okinawa became Eddie-Callagain's home shortly after she got out of the military. Having been previously stationed in Okinawa, the plight of Okinawan mothers deserted by their military lovers had always been an emotional matter for her. "When I was stationed in Okinawa from 1990 to 1993, I realized there was a serious problem with these women who had children from military men," said Eddie-Callagain in an interview for the National Bar Association Magazine.

What touched her even more was the fact that these mothers receive no help from the Japanese government. According to Eddie-Callagain, part of the difficulty is that Japan does not have an international agreement with the United States regarding such issues as child support or alimony. Other countries, like Germany for example, honor the United States' Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (USIFSA) which aids in forcing "deadbeat" dads to "pay up".

In addition to the difficulties these women face, they have to come up with the funds to hire Japanese attorneys whenever they have a problem. Most of the Women that Eddie-Callagain represents are working-class mothers with average financial means. The average retainer fee for a Japanese attorney is around $5000, a large sum of money that is usually not affordable. The free service that Eddie-Callagain provides gives the women a fighting chance to collect child-support.

Frustrated by the absence of an International agreement between Japan and the United States to enforce child support laws, Eddie-Callagain began to research into how she would help these women. After writing a letter to the attorney general's office in San Antonio, Texas - a center for handling international child-support issues - she was informed that an annual event would be held starting August 1998 in Washington, DC, involving 2,000 child-support advocates.

Attending the National Child Support Enforcement Association Conference was a move that greatly helped her cause. Eddie-Callagain was able to network with people from various offices throughout the United States. She now has numerous contacts that are willing to assist her in her endeavors.

This year, Eddie-Callagain attended the conference in Chicago. At the conference, she was able to set up contacts with Labcor, a testing company in the States, and her office was designated as a DNA collection site to help determine paternity cases. Now a woman needs to pay only between $15-$200 to take the test, which locally costs $2000 per person.

Eddie-Callagain continues to find new ways to fight for children's rights.

Her most recent endeavor is the development of a Think Tank along with two Japanese attorneys and a university professor. The Conference Institute Regarding International Relationships will serve the purpose of "focusing on the solution of legal problems that are based on international marriages and relationships," according to Eddie-Callagain.

Starting on the 1st Monday in February of 2000, women will be able to call a "hot line" free of charge to discuss all issues of custody, child support and educational problems.

Eddie-Callagain has no intentions of leaving this island - at least not in the near future. She feels she has a mission to fulfill, and truly is a person who loves what she does for a living. She doesn't keep banker's hours and is often at work at 4 o'clock in the morning. “Most of my friends complain about their jobs and can't believe that I can work such long hours and still enjoy being an attorney," she says. However, just for our information: "I love doing what I do, and there is always something to be done,” she adds.

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