Judy H. Kim Makes History as First Korean American Elected to NY State Court

On November 8, 2016, Judy H. Kim became the first Korean American to be elected to a judicial position in the State of New York.  AABANY is extremely proud of Judy, who has served on its Board and as Co-Chair of its Student Outreach Committee, and graciously agreed to be interviewed.  We were thrilled to have the chance to learn more about her career and path to the bench.

Judy began her legal career at Kennedy Lillis Schmidt & English, a boutique maritime/admiralty law firm, after receiving her J.D. from Tulane Law School and her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania.  “At that time, I was the only female and minority at the firm and it was very rare that I met other lawyers like me,” said Judy.

She next worked at Snitow Kanfer Holtzer & Millus LLP, where she specialized in commercial litigation, employment discrimination litigation, and matrimonial litigation matters.

Judy then left private practice to join the Bureau & Estates Litigation Section of the Legal Division at the New York Liquidation Bureau (the “Bureau”) as an associate counsel.  The Bureau is part of the New York State Department of Financial Services.  It oversees the liquidations of bankrupt insurance companies, handles thousands of claims eligible for payment from three insurance security funds, and distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in estate dividends and in claim payments to injured plaintiffs. At the Bureau, Judy handled all phases of litigation involving the Superintendent of Financial Services as receiver of bankrupt insurance companies and on behalf of defendant insureds in Supreme Court, Civil Court, and in hearings before a court-appointed referee.

A few years after she started working for the Bureau, Judy found that she really enjoyed working in the public sector and making a difference for a broader community of New Yorkers.

“I decided to run for the bench because I had a desire to be someone who was going to make a difference in society by ensuring that everyone is treated fairly and has the opportunity to receive a just resolution to their problems. I learned the importance of helping those who can’t help themselves at a young age and I have always personally felt that community service is something that is important,” said Judy in a recent interview.

“I believe that serving as a judge is the highest form of public service that one can do as an attorney.”  Also, “by bringing awareness to the community and to young lawyers that being a judge is important for Asians and a great public service, we increase the number of qualified candidates and the diversity of the judiciary.”

She found the campaign process to be daunting at first, and credits the support and guidance she received from her parents, sister, and mentors with helping her through it.  “Everyone I met along the way has helped shape who I am today.  There is no one particular person [or experience].  Really, the process and my evolving into the person I am now [took] a village of family, friends, supporters, mentors, and colleagues.”

Judy is also thankful for the AABANY network and the support she received from several judges who had helped her navigate the process.  “I feel very lucky that it was through an AABANY friend’s introductions that I met amazing judge mentors.  It is pretty incredible that a few introductions made such a huge impact on my career.  It really serves as a perfect example of how AABANY provides support and a networking base for young lawyers organically.”

To young lawyers who are considering pursing a career in the judiciary, Judy offered a few words of advice:

First, know yourself.  Although Judy was prepared for the hard work involved in running a campaign, she was “surprised at how going through the process caused me to have to really ‘find myself’ and helped me to understand who I am.  A common question that voters asked was, ‘Why do you want to be a judge?’ and you can’t really answer that question without self-reflection.”

Second, “as an attorney, I think it is extremely important to give back to the community—whether it is volunteering at a pro bono clinic or soup kitchen or in civic or community organizations.  Often you will find that you don’t only help those who need it but they help you to be a more well-rounded, satisfied, and compassionate person.”

Third, Judy recommends getting involved in bar associations.  “I think the Asian American legal community in New York is very collegial and welcoming,” Judy observed.  “I found that there is a willingness among Asian American lawyers to help each other succeed and that friendships are easily made because of our similar upbringings and experiences.”

Indeed, Judy holds or has held various positions with a number of non-profit organizations.  Currently, she serves as a Board member of Stonewall Community Development Corporation; a Board member of Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert; a Board member of the Korean American League for Civic Action; a member of the Diversity Committee at The Spence School; and a member of the Young Survival Coalition.

In addition, Judy has served as Northeast Regional Governor and Board member of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) and Recording Secretary and Board member of Korean American Lawyers Association of Greater New York (KALAGNY).

Judy also has a long and impressive history with AABANY.  She joined AABANY in 1999 and has been an active member ever since. She has held various leadership roles within AABANY, including: Membership Secretary (2012-2014); Co-Chair of the Student Outreach Committee (2006-2007); and Treasurer (2002-2006). When asked about her experience at AABANY, Judy said, “During these periods of time I saw tremendous growth in the AABANY membership and saw the organization’s reputation as a strong bar association develop not only among Asian Americans and other minority bar associations but with the mainstream bar associations as well.  AABANY, through its leadership over the years, has achieved a ‘seat at the proverbial table’ with respect to selection of judges and I think that is a huge accomplishment.”

Judy has found her experience in the Asian American legal community in New York to be very rewarding, particularly her experience mentoring young attorneys.  “One of the best roles I had in AABANY was Co-Chair of the Student Outreach Committee.  In that role, we brought back AABANY’s signature career and resume workshops and other networking events that re-engaged law students not just with AABANY members but among students at different law schools.  To this day, many years later, I am often approached by lawyers who remember me from the programs that were organized. I’m so happy to hear that they are doing well and found that AABANY was helpful to them on a personal and professional level.”

Finally, Judy counsels aspiring jurists to “stay the course even when they may feel like quitting.  Develop yourself to be the best lawyer/litigator you can be and then commit to the process because there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Don’t underestimate yourself or what you are capable of achieving with hard work, commitment, passion, and determination. Believe in yourself and follow your dreams. Find your own path and trail-blaze it if you need to. Also, develop your EQ as well as your IQ.”

AABANY is very proud to see one of its prominent members elected to the bench, and congratulates Judy Kim on her historic election. As AABANY President Susan L. Shin put it, Judy’s election “brings us one step closer to a bench that reflects the diversity of New York City.”

This article was written by AABANY Intern Yuqing Tian and originally ran in the Winter 2016 issue of The AABANY Advocate. Yuqing Tian is a recent graduate of University at Buffalo Law School, where she currently interns with the NYC Program on Finance and Law.