National / Social Issues

Defense lawyer, with guide dog's help, carries welfare-related caseload

Kyodo

Lawyer Kimiko Yoshie walks through a narrow aisle in court, led by a guide dog. Taking a seat on the defense side, she gently pats the dog’s head and smiles at him as he stretches at her feet.

Being visually impaired, 45 year-old Yoshie from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, is always with Kuru, her 7-year-old male Labrador retriever, including in court.

Other than helping Yoshie dodge obstacles, Kuru’s laid-back attitude also helps calm defendants and other clients she meets for the first time, Yoshie said in an interview held prior to International Guide Dog Day on Wednesday.

Although she has lost 98 percent of her vision from sickness, she laughs off the impairment with her cheerful character, saying she suffers no inconveniences.

But Yoshie, who is an active member of the court and involved in welfare-related lawsuits, is a rare example of a guide dog-assisted practicing lawyer, according to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

Just prior to starting her law studies at Nagoya University, Yoshie was diagnosed with pigmentary degeneration of the retina and told she may go blind by the age of 40.

Thinking she might have to give up her dream of working for the United Nations and unable to discuss the situation with her friends or family, she was then certified as seriously handicapped at age 24.

The turning point came when Yoshie started working for a law office four years later. Impressed by a female lawyer establishing a support organization for children with leukemia in postwar Iraq, she decided to focus on helping the underprivileged.

Yoshie passed the national bar examination after five years of challenges. Initially based in Nagoya, she tackled such lawsuits as questioning the constitutionality of the law to help impaired people become financially independent, and cases involving mentally impaired consumers.

Since her illness worsened gradually, she contacted a guide dog association to ensure her safety and that of others around her. She met Kuru in spring 2010.

In spring 2013, after getting married, Yoshie moved to a law office in Kobe.

“There are many cases in which people with disabilities would rely on judicial power.

“Being a lawyer with an impairment, I would like to defend my clients while empathizing with them,” she said, adding that she will continue working on welfare-related lawsuits, together with Kuru.

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