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Dan Mayeda Steps Onto His Next Stage

By February 23, 2024June 17th, 2024No Comments

UCLA Documentary Film Legal Clinic founders Dan Mayeda and Dale Cohen (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

The attorney and advocate for AAPI representation, EW Players booster retires.

By P.C. Staff

It has been more than four months since professional colleagues, friends and family members of Daniel Mayeda gathered at the University of California Los Angeles’ James Bridges Theater to honor the True-Blue Bruin — he earned both his B.A. and J.D. at the institution — in the waning weeks of 2023 before formally stepping away at year’s end from his duties as one of the founders of the UCLA Documentary Film Legal Clinic.

The end of the year also saw Mayeda formally separate from law firm Ballard Spahr, which had a few years earlier absorbed Leopold, Petrich and Smith, the law firm where he had spent more than 30 years as an entertainment attorney and become a partner before leaving to help launch the Documentary Film Legal Clinic in 2018.

For him, 2023 was the last page of a chapter. The culmination of a career. Finito. The “R” word.

The first page of a new chapter has begun in 2024 and an entrée into a new stage. So far, Mayeda has found that retirement is fine.

And, as he pointed out in a conversation with the Pacific Citizen, the word “retirement” can have many meanings. “It’s been great, actually. No shortage of things to occupy my time,” Mayeda said. Since that evening on Oct. 17 and through the end of 2023, Mayeda has kept busy. Moving the contents from his UCLA office to his home office. Scanning necessary documents. Dumping stuff that no longer matters. Getting organized.

Now, as an empty nester, Mayeda has found it much easier to do spur-of-the-moment things like taking an overnight trip with his wife, Susan Rosales, or participating in the most-recent Day of Remembrance procession at the Japanese American National Museum. On that day, he represented the Tuna Canyon Detention Station as a descendent of his Issei grandfather, George Mayeda, aka Kunitomo Mayeda, who had been held there before being sent to the Santa Fe Internment Camp, a topic he had written about for the Huffington Post (see and later, JANM’s Discover Nikkei website.

Over the decades, Mayeda has been active with several community-based organizations, East West Players being one of the most prominent, having served on its board beginning in 1994. “I’m no longer on the board, but I was asked to participate on the national search committee for the new artistic director, which I was doing toward the end of last year and then into January.” He said EWP would be revealing its new artistic director “any day now.”

Another of his causes has been representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in movies and on television. “I am still associated with media advocacy efforts,” he said, noting that he is the chair emeritus of the Asian American Media Alliance.

Yet another area in which he used his powers was as the co-chair of the Los Angeles County Citizens Redistricting Commission, which sought to create new, fairer boundaries for Los Angeles County Supervisors. At his Oct. 17 “sayonara” event, Mayeda told the audience, “I still plan to find ways to continue to support independent redistricting voting rights.”

In the coming months, the Culver City resident says he is eager to help with a memorial wall in Columbia Park in Torrance, Calif., that will list the names of the more than 120,000 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in American concentration camps during WWII. The park is just blocks away from where he grew up.

“I still have my law license, I’m still a member of the California bar and I am still doing some small amount of work as an entertainment lawyer,” Mayeda said, referring to “one main client” that chose to stay with him rather than stick with his former law firm. He also has a few other clients that he says he will continue to work with, adding that he can now “make my own schedule for that kind of stuff.”

In recent years, of course, much of his focus was the UCLA Documentary Film Legal Clinic, the mission of which was to train law students to use their skills to help documentary filmmakers pro bono deal with issues ranging from fair use, what is and is not in the public domain, copyright, talent releases and the like so that underrepresented filmmakers and storytellers could get their stories out to the public while avoiding legal pitfalls and costs that could leave worthy projects stillborn.

Pictured (from left) are Dan Mayeda, Nobuko Miyamoto, Tarabu Kirkland and Dale Cohen.

Addressing the gathering at the James Bridges Theater, Mayeda recalled where he was about six years earlier. “I was pondering the next steps in my life. I was about to turn 60 in a couple months from then.

“I only had one more tuition payment before my daughter, Kacey, graduated from UC Berkeley. My mortgage was winding down. And you know, I thought maybe there’s an opportunity for me to do something different in my life.

“And around that same time, I saw this posting about this new experiential education program at UCLA,” he continued. “And I thought, ‘Wow, you know, that’s kind of interesting.’ I knew I loved teaching because I had done some of that. And I saw this as an opportunity, sort of an extension of my work that I had already been doing, where we can find diverse storytellers, underrepresented storytellers, who are passionate about telling a story that wasn’t being told by the mainstream media and help them get their films done and out to the public. And I thought, ‘How can I not take advantage of an opportunity like that?’

“So, in January 2018, I joined with Dale Cohen to start this new program, this documentary film legal clinic, helping underrepresented storytellers get their stories out. I think we made some mistakes along the way, but hopefully, we’ve learned from them over the years. And nearly six years later, I think we’ve come up with a success. We have now one of the most popular experiential education programs going on at the law school. … We have created what I think is regarded now as the top experiential education program in the entertainment law area in the country.”

Dan Mayeda with his family at his retirement event on the UCLA campus. Pictured (from left) are his mother, Theresa Mayeda; daughter, Kacey Mayeda; and wife, Susan Rosales. (Photo: George Toshio Johnston)

One of the evening’s highlights: having his wife, daughter and mother, Theresa Mayeda, in attendance. Another highlight: the tribute video with messages of thanks from the many people whose documentaries were completed thanks to the clinic. But Mayeda had his own thanks he wanted to express to Cohen, his “partner in crime and director at the clinic.”

“I especially want to thank you, Dale, for insisting on having an event like tonight. It’s been a great opportunity to reflect and consider what we built together over the past six years and to give me a chance to thank our students, our clients and all our supporters.”