Two Asian American Judges Talk Leadership: Hon. Lillian Wan & Hon. Randall Eng

In April, Hon. Randall T. Eng and Hon. Lillian Wan came together to discuss the dearth of Asian American representation among New York’s judiciary and public offices. In a podcast episode published by the Historical Society of the New York Courts, they open up about their career paths and the obstacles they faced while pursuing their respective careers. When Judge Eng took up his jurist position in 1983, there were no other Asian American jurists within the city or state of New York. Now, there are 39 sitting Asian American jurists. Though the number of Asian American jurists has increased, progress has been exceedingly slow.

This past May was Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so the conversation between Hon. Lillian Wan and Hon. Randall Eng was featured on the Society’s home page. Hon. Lillian Wan, President of the Asian American Judges Association of New York, an AABANY member and a member of the Society’s Board of Trustees, has been nominated as a candidate for the New York State Supreme Court in Kings County and currently serves as Kings County Supreme Court Civil Term Judge. Throughout their conversation, Judge Wan and Judge Eng discuss how Asian American attorneys today can advocate for Asian American representation in positions of legal leadership, as well as judicial and public offices.

To listen to the podcast go to https://history.nycourts.gov/podcasts/podcast-11/.

Historical Society of the New York Courts and the Asian American Judges Association of New York Sponsor a Panel about AAPIs in the Judiciary, May 20

On May 20, the Historical Society of the New York Courts, the Asian American Judges Association of New York, and Meyer Suozzi English & Klein P.C. co-sponsored a panel discussion on the role of Asian Americans in the federal and state judiciary. The panelists of the event were Hon. Pamela K. Chen, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of New York and AABANY member; Hon. Toko Serita, New York State Acting Supreme Court Justice, Presiding Judge of the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court, and AABANY member; and Hon. Anil C. Singh, Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department. Hon. Lillian Wan, New York State Acting Supreme Court Justice and AABANY member, moderated the panel.

New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore opened the event with a few remarks, thanking the panelists and acknowledging their trailblazing careers as Asian-Americans. Chief Judge DiFiore also emphasized the importance of remembering AAPI history and the United States’ legacy of racial exclusion against Asians. She then turned the program over to Judge Randall T. Eng. Judge Eng, Of Counsel at Meyer Suozzi and former Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, welcomed the attendees and shared his experiences as the first Asian American appointed to the bench in New York.

Judge Wan then introduced the panelists for the event, opening the discussion with a brief presentation on AAPI history from Hong Yen Chang and the Chinese Exclusion Act to the present day. After the presentation, each of the panelists introduced themselves and shared their backgrounds and paths to becoming judges. Judge Wan began the panel discussion, asking the panelists about their experiences as Asian Americans at the times of their confirmations. Many of the panelists recounted how there were very few, if not any, Asian American judges when they were appointed. Judge Chen recalled how her appointment was facilitated by Obama’s attempts to diversify the federal bench, while Judge Serita recounted her experiences as the first Japanese American appointed to her court.

Judge Wan moved on to the reasons behind the underrepresentation of AAPIs in the state and federal judiciary. All of the panelists cited lack of political engagement, the lack of a pipeline, and the general tendency of Asian lawyers to seek employment at corporate law firms. Judge Chen also brought up cultural barriers, touching on how Asians tend not to promote themselves and do not seek help even when needed.

Judge Wan shifted the topic to Asian stereotypes and its effects on day-to-day legal practice. The judges all expressed how Asians are frequently lumped together, being viewed as a monolithic group. Judge Serita pointed out that the term “Asian” itself perpetuates invisibility, as it smothers the diverse experiences that individuals of different Asian cultures experience. Judge Chen also mentioned how women of color tend to face more microaggressions than men of color.

Judge Wan then asked the panelists if they had experienced any incidents of anti-Asian assault during the COVID pandemic. Judge Serita shared that during the height of the pandemic, she would wear a hat and sunglasses on the subway in order to hide her Asian identity. She also mentioned how women make up 70% of bias incident victims due to being stereotyped as meek and docile. Judge Serita also emphasized the importance of continuing the conversations about Asians and race in light of the rise in anti-Asian incidents. Judge Chen also shared a story, where an Asian female jury member had to be excused from jury duty because she feared being assaulted on the subway commute to the courthouse.

Judge Wan then directed the conversation towards the role of diversity in the judiciary. All the judges emphasized the importance of having a judiciary that reflects the diversity of the people it serves. Judge Chen also cited Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion in the Schuette v. Coalition case, pointing out how race does matter in the judiciary due to the long history of minorities being excluded in the United States.

Judge Wan then asked the panelists their thoughts on building a pipeline for Asians to enter the judiciary. All the judges expressed how important it was to reach out to the community to inspire young people to consider a public service career. Judge Chen identified a number of internships and programs for students aspiring to become judges while also noting how increasing Asian political representation in federal and state positions would afford aspiring AAPI lawyers the support needed to get through the confirmation process. Judge Chen also mentioned the role of bar associations like AABANY and the South Asian Bar Association of New York in sponsoring candidates for the bench. Judge Serita finished by encouraging young lawyers to be more proactive and to overcome Asian cultural humility.

Judge Wan moved to the topic of judicial screening panels, asking the judges their thoughts on the role of diversity on the panels. All the judges agreed on the vital role of diversity on screening panels. Judge Serita recounted one instance where an Asian woman being reviewed by the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys was given a low qualification score, due, in part, to the fact that only one out of the 30 committee members was Asian.

To close the panel, Judge Wan asked the judges if they had any advice to give to young attorneys aspiring to the bench. Judge Chen and Judge Serita both encouraged the attendees to enjoy their work, be passionate about it, but also, to not plan their careers rigidly around becoming a judge. All the judges also expressed the importance of flexibility and of keeping options open.

At the end of the event, Judge Eng shared photographs and a newspaper clipping documenting his long and distinguished career in the judiciary. Judge Wan then thanked the panelists for their time and the attendees for coming to the event.

To watch the full event, click here.

AABANY Hosts Weekly Membership Mixer Featuring the Judiciary Committee on March 19

On March 19, 2021, the Membership Committee hosted their weekly virtual Membership Mixer, with 25 participants in attendance. This week, we co-hosted the mixer with the Judiciary Committee. The icebreaker question was: “Who is your favorite judge, whether it be from television, judges you have appeared in front of, or judges you studied in law school?” Participants answered their favorite judges were Denny Chin, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Thurgood Marshall, Judge Judy, Tara Collins, Norma Ruiz,  LaShann DeArcy Hall, Pamela Chen, Sandra Day O’Connor, Lewis Pollack, Learned Hand, and Anthony Cannataro. 

The co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee told members their role at AABANY, and their wish to help more Asian lawyers become judges.  Members also heard from Honorable Lillian Wan and Honorable John Wang about their journey to judgeships, and how AABANY helped. We also heard from judicial candidate Christopher Chin, who is running in the primary this June. 

The Membership Committee previously hosted Monthly Mixers at bars, ballparks, stadiums, operas, etc, but due to COVID, we have moved online to offer members a weekly outlet to share their feelings, see old friends, and make new connections. Mixers start at 6:30pm on Friday and the main event ends at 7:30pm but many often stay on after 7:30pm for smaller breakout groups.

Membership Committee will continue to host weekly virtual mixers until it is safe to gather together again in person.

Please join us this week on March 26, 2021 for a very special mixer with Founders of AABANY. Please come listen to Hon. Doris Ling Cohan, Rocky Chin, Hon. Marilyn Go and Sylvia Chin discuss how AABANY started! Register by Thursday, March 25, at https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1468900.

Congratulations to Hon. Lillian Wan, Recipient of the Brooklyn Bar Association’s Diversity Award

On Wednesday May 8, the Brooklyn Bar Association held its annual meeting on Wednesday and honored nine members of the local legal community during a ceremony at the Brooklyn Bar Association building on Remsen Street. AABANY is proud to note that its member, Hon. Lillian Wan, received the Diversity Award. Read the full article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle here.

From Yang Chen, Executive Director:

“AABANY congratulates Justice Wan on being honored with the first-ever Diversity Award from the Brooklyn Bar Association,” states Executive Director Yang Chen. “We have followed Justice Wan’s path to the bench and her rise over the years, and we commend the Brooklyn Bar Association for recognizing her with this well-deserved honor, recognizing her role as a trailblazer in the Asian American community and as a champion of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and the community.”

Read the full AABANY press release here.

AABANY CONGRATULATES JUDGE LILLIAN WAN ON HER HISTORIC APPOINTMENT AS THE FIRST ASIAN AMERICAN WOMAN TO SERVE ON THE NEW YORK COURT OF CLAIMS

NEW YORK – June 25, 2018- The Asian American Bar Association of New York (“AABANY”)
congratulates the Honorable Lillian Wan on being confirmed by the New York State Senate on
June 20, 2018, to sit as a judge on the New York Court of Claims, where she will rule on cases
involving claims against the state or its agencies. As Senator Jesse Hamilton (D-Brooklyn) stated
at the confirmation, Judge Wan will be “making history” by serving as the first Asian American
woman on the Court of Claims. 

Prior to her confirmation, Judge Wan served as a Judge on the Kings County Family Court after
being appointed in 2012 by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, where she heard a number of
complex cases pertaining to child custody, abuse, juvenile delinquency, and family offenses. She
also presided over “crossover youth” cases, which involve children who enter the juvenile justice
system after spending time in the state’s child welfare system or in foster care. 

Before being appointed to the bench, Judge Wan led a successful legal career as an experienced
trial attorney for the Administration for Children’s Services (“ACS”) in the Family Court Legal
Services Division, where she litigated cases on neglect and abuse. Judge Wan also served as a
Court Attorney-Referee in Kings County Surrogate’s Court, where she participated in settlement
conferences and held hearings related to guardianship, kinship, adoption, and estates. Judge Wan
received her B.A. from Binghamton University and her J.D. from Albany Law School, where she
served on the Albany Law Review and graduated within the top five of her class. 

Judge Wan is an active member of various organizations and committees dedicated to the
advancement of justice, including the Encourage Judicial Service Committee and the New York
State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics. She currently serves as a board member for the
Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association and the New York State Family Court Judges Association,
and has served as the former Co-Chair of the Government and Public Sector (now the
Government and Public Interest) Committee for AABANY. Judge Wan is active within her local
community, taking part in outreach programs such as the National Association of Women Judges
“Color of Justice” Program, which aims to introduce students to the legal profession. 

“AABANY is immensely proud of Judge Wan. Her experience in the courtroom, compassion,
and unwavering dedication make her an unparalleled candidate to serve as a judge on the Court
of Claims,” said James Cho, President of AABANY. “Judge Wan’s confirmation also reminds us
of the progress we have made in advancing diversity and inclusion on the bench; Asian Pacific
Americans and other minority communities continue to be underrepresented on the bench, but
we are gratified to see that New York is appointing minority judges like Judge Wan. Her
appointment marks a historic and significant step forward in making the judiciary more diverse
and inclusive.” 

For more information, please contact Yang Chen, AABANY Executive Director, at (212) 332-
2478, or direct any inquiries to main@aabany.org. 

The Asian American Bar Association of New York is a professional membership organization of
attorneys concerned with issues affecting the Asian Pacific American community. Incorporated
in 1989, AABANY seeks not only to encourage the professional growth of its members but also
to advocate for the Asian Pacific American community as a whole. AABANY is a New York
regional affiliate of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA). 

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Congratulations to Hon. Lillian Wan, first Asian American woman in the New York State Court of Claims, confirmed by the New York State Senate on the evening of June 20, 2018. AABANY congratulates Judge Wan on this historic appointment. Please join us in wishing her every success in this next phase of Judge Wan’s judicial career.

Congratulations also to all the appointees confirmed by the New York State Senate on June 20:

  • JOEL M. COHEN 
  • JOHN R. HIGGITT 
  • FRANCIS A. KAHN III 
  • Hon. CHRIS ANN KELLEY 
  • DAVID L. LEWIS 
  • JAMES A. McCARTY, Jr. 
  • MICHELE SHARON RODNEY

Meet AAJANY: Asian American Judges Association of New York

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(Pictured above, left to right: Hon. Gilbert Hong, Hon. Marilyn Go, Hon. Denny Chin, Hon. Pamela Chen, Hon. Lillian Wan, Hon. Lorna Schofield, Hon. Doris Ling-Cohan, Hon. Kiyo Matsumoto, Hon. Toko Serita, Hon. Lydia Lai, Hon. Laurie Lau, Hon. Leslie Purificacion (seated), Hon. Dean Kusakabe)

On April 23, 2014, the newly formed Asian American Judges Association of New York (AAJANY) met with their Asian American colleagues on the federal bench and were hosted by the Honorable Denny Chin, Second Circuit Judge, for a tour of the courthouse. They later convened for dinner at Forlini’s to discuss common issues.

AAJANY was formed to address issues affecting Asian American judges, staff, and litigants in the state courts, to promote more diversity amongst the bar and the judiciary, and to advance the inclusion of judges of Asian descent at all levels of the state court system.

Three of those attending are also officers of the NAPABA Judicial Council (a national organization of state and federal judges of Asian descent): Hon. Doris Ling-Cohan (President), Hon. Denny Chin (Treasurer), and Hon. Marilyn Go (Secretary).

AAJANY is sponsoring the event, “How to Become a State Court Judge – from an APA perspective,” on April 29, 2014, 6pm, at the New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA), 14 Vesey Street. Registration has closed but feel free to attend as a walk-in. Click here for more info.