For Immediate Release: November 7, 2023 Contact: Rahat N. Babar, Deputy Executive Director for Policy
WASHINGTON – Today, the United States Senate confirmed Judge Kenly Kiya Kato’s nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
“NAPABA congratulates Judge Kato on her confirmation to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. An experienced jurist, her service as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on that court since 2014 has been exemplary,” said Sandra Leung, President of NAPABA. “Active in the AANHPI community, her commitment to public service and access to justice was shaped by the incarceration of her parents during World War II solely because they were of Japanese descent.”
“Judge Kato is the 26th Article III judge from the AANHPI community that was nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. President Biden continues to extend his record of judges from the AANHPI community,” said Priya Purandare, Executive Director of NAPABA. “We thank President Biden for nominating Judge Kato and the late Senator Feinstein and Senator Padilla for recommending her.”
Prior to Judge Kato’s confirmation to the U.S. District Court, she served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California. Earlier in her career, she maintained a private practice and was a deputy federal public defender. Judge Kato was a law clerk to the late Judge Robert M. Takasugi of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and is a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles and Harvard Law School.
The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), represents the interests of over 60,000 Asian Pacific American (APA) legal professionals and nearly 90 national, state, and local APA bar associations. NAPABA is a leader in addressing civil rights issues confronting Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities. Through its national network, NAPABA provides a strong voice for increased diversity of the federal and state judiciaries, advocates for equal opportunity in the workplace, works to eliminate hate crimes and anti-immigrant sentiment, and promotes the professional development of people of all backgrounds in the legal profession.
AABANY congratulates Jennifer Wu, co-chair of AABANY’s Women’s Committee and Founding Partner at Groombridge, Wu, Baughman & Stone LLP, as a recipient of NAPABA’s Pro Bono Service Award. This recognition is well-deserved, acknowledging Jennifer’s exceptional commitment to Pro Bono service and unwavering dedication to advancing civil rights, aligning with NAPABA’s mission to promote justice, equity, and opportunity for Asian American Pacific Islanders. Jennifer’s exemplary legal and advocacy work also exemplifies the values and aspirations of the Asian American Bar Association of New York, making her an inspiring role model for the legal community at large. This award will be presented during the Gala on Saturday evening, November 11, at the NAPABA Convention in Indianapolis.
When asked what she felt when she first learned that she was getting this award, Jennifer recounts her initial feelings of overwhelming appreciation and gratitude for the NAPABA community. “To me, Pro Bono work has always been driven by a sense of purpose, with no expectation of accolades or recognition. Receiving the NABABA Pro Bono Service Award is like the cherry on top. It’s truly gratifying to receive recognition, particularly when you’re dedicated to serving a community that often goes unnoticed,” remarked Jennifer.
Jennifer’s Pro Bono career has been as exceptional as it has been unconventional. Her Pro Bono work differs significantly from what is traditionally associated with legal Pro Bono services. While many high-profile cases commonly involve courtroom appearances and legal battles, Jennifer’s approach is distinct. She provides legal guidance and support, helping victims and their families navigate issues that are more practical in nature. “While this type of work may not conform to what is conventionally recognized by the legal community,” Jennifer stated, “I am deeply honored by NAPABA’s acknowledgment.”
Jennifer demonstrates her exemplary dedication to the community through her active involvement in a wide array of groundbreaking initiatives and Pro Bono cases. Through her legal work, Jennifer has taken on the crucial role of representing victims of Anti-Asian violence, advocating for justice, and providing essential support to their families. Jennifer’s Pro Bono services have been extraordinary— she has taken on the representation of nearly every individual who has lost their life to anti-Asian violence in the past two years in New York City.
Growing up in an immigrant family in New Jersey, Jennifer recounted how her upbringing has affected her outlook on the importance of Pro Bono service and civil rights advocacy. As the first lawyer in her family, it struck her that Pro Bono services were not available for those that needed them. “I noticed that organizations out there simply don’t solve the problems that my immigrant family faces,” observed Jennifer. Asian immigrants, in particular, face a host of unique challenges in gaining access to legal services. “Many immigrants find themselves in a challenging middle ground—they’re not considered poor enough to qualify for legal aid, but they also lack the financial means to afford a top-tier lawyer who can represent them effectively,” Jennifer stated.
This phenomenon highlights the pressing need for legal services that bridge the gap for immigrant communities, making it clear that there is a substantial segment of the population that falls into this underserved category. Armed with her personal experiences and profound understanding of the immigrant experience, Jennifer hopes to dedicate her legal career to addressing this gap in service, reshaping the legal landscape to better serve the needs of all members of society.
Furthermore, “the immigrant community is not assimilated enough [to know about] government services [and] to trust the people that are there to help them. They don’t trust the police, they don’t trust the district attorney— they don’t even trust the hospitals treating them,” observed Jennifer. “When they don’t trust those institutions, their reaction is to withdraw, and not engage. This is okay, except when someone’s been really hurt. All of the sudden, they’re faced with these legal institutions that for their entire life, they’ve tried to avoid.”
Against this backdrop of general distrust of existing institutions, Jennifer views her Asian identity as a unifying force, a connection that can help close the gap between immigrant communities and the often intimidating legal system. Her immigrant background thus becomes a point of connection and relatability, enabling her to break down barriers and establish trust with individuals who may have been apprehensive about seeking help. Her commitment to building these crucial bridges not only helps immigrant families find the justice and support they need but also serves as a powerful testament to the impact of diversity and cultural understanding that facilitates the efficacy of her Pro Bono advocacy.
Aside from her illustrious Pro Bono career, Jennifer is actively involved in AABANY as a co-chair of AABANY’s Women’s Committee. When asked about her experience in the committee, Jennifer’s face lit up with a smile, and she warmly reflected on her involvement. “Though I’ve engaged in mentorship experiences in the past, they often felt awkward because they didn’t naturally evolve,” Jennifer declared, in an animated tone. “What makes the Women’s Committee so exceptional is that it provides an organic opportunity to connect and engage with a diverse and accomplished group of female Asian lawyers.” Her warmth and enthusiasm in discussing her role in the Committee demonstrates her dedication to empowering the next generation of legal professionals. To learn more about AABANY’s Women’s Committee, please click here.
To announce the release of the Endless Tide report, Jennifer delivered remarks at a press conference held on May 31 at the offices of Paul, Weiss in midtown Manhattan. During this event, Eva Zhao, the widow of Zhiwen Yan, the delivery worker who tragically lost his life in Forest Hills, spoke about her hardships and struggles in the wake of her husband’s murder. Significantly, the very next day, the perpetrator responsible for Zhiwen Yan’s tragic death was arrested, marking a significant breakthrough in a case Jennifer had worked diligently on. Jennifer’s relentless efforts and dedication in the Zhiwen Yan case played a pivotal role in bringing closure to the grieving family and securing justice for the victim. To read more about Jennifer’s involvement in this case, and her approach to anti-Asian violence casework, click here.
Please join AABANY in congratulating Jennifer on receiving the NAPABA Pro Bono Service Award, In the legal world and beyond, Jennifer Wu’s work serves as an embodiment of the power of empathy, cultural understanding, and unwavering dedication to justice.