Longtime social justice champion celebrates well-deserved retirement

Victor Geminiani, a longtime champion for Hawaii’s poor and vulnerable, retires

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - For five decades, attorney Victor Geminiani fought for equal rights for poor people.

He said he was guided by his Catholic upbringing.

"There's a sense of obligation to the community, and to use your resources and your skills to better other people's lives," he said.

Born in New York, law was the furthest thing from Geminiani’s mind for a career choice. He thought about being an architect, but that changed with the war in Vietnam.

"A lot of students got deferments to go to college. I went to college and I went to law school," he said.

He graduated from Villanova Law School. In 1969, he was hired by Atlanta’s Legal Aid Society where he saw firsthand the impacts of segregation.

"I ended up in the South where virtually everything they did was illegal," he said. "Every time I opened the door a client would walk in with a voting rights case or a prison condition case or a state statute case."

During a period of his career, Geminiani oversaw the work of all the Legal Aid Society’s in the southern United States. Then, in 1994, he took over the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.

In 2007, he co-founded the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.

Geminiani retired on August 31, turning over the executive director position to Gavin Thornton.

Thornton calls Geminiani a “passionate champion of justice and fairness.”

"He is always talking about the importance of speaking truth to power, and fighting for the rights of low-income and marginalized people." he said.

In his home in Kailua, Geminiani pulled out a stack of newspaper clippings that chronicle his courtroom battles and victories against inflated rents, bad living conditions in public housing and other social issues.

He's proud of the accomplishments.

"It changed the tone of how people thought about low-income people, particularly tenants in public housing, particularly the Micronesian community in terms of the denial of health benefits, critical health benefits," he said.

At 75, Geminiani offered this advice to law students who are inspired to specialize in social justice law.

"I would tell someone coming up now don't be naive in about what you can accomplish," he said. "Keep the fires burning in terms of the strongest opportunity you have to make real change and that's impact litigation. And stay in it for the long haul."

Geminiani will spend retirement traveling and restoring old sports cars he collects. He can finally slow down after 50 years of being a voice for the vulnerable.

Copyright 2019 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.