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Judge Gail Chang Bohr, retired but still on a mission

Main source: Mitchell Hamline Law Magazine | Spring 2022

 

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Gail Chang Bohr may be retired from the bench, but she hasn’t retired her mind or passion.  In fact, she has taken C.S. Lewis’ statement to heart: “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

The opening sentence of the Mitchell Hamline Law Magazine article captured Chang Bohr’s spirit, “When asked if she’s any less busy in retirement, her chuckle says it all.”  She retired from Ramsey County (the Second Judicial District) in 2014 at the mandatory age of 70.  Then she served as senior judge for the State of Minnesota until June 2015.

In 2021, she served as president of The Infinity Project, a nonpartisan group dedicated to getting more women into judgeships. According to the Mitchell Hamline magazine article, “Women are half the population but fewer than a third of state judges. Nonwhite people are 40% of the population but fewer than 20% of state judges. Of the nation’s 12 judicial circuits, the Eighth is the least diverse.”  (The Eighth Circuit includes Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.)

“There are plenty of qualified women, but they don’t put themselves forward,” Chang Bohr said. “We don’t endorse candidates, but we aim to demystify the judicial application process and prepare women to put their best foot forward.

“We’re also partnering with organizations like the Black, Native, Hispanic, and Asian Bar Associations to expand our pipeline and increase diversity.”

Born ninth of 15 kids to Chinese immigrants to Jamaica, Chang Bohr grew up in Kingston where her parents ran the first supermarket in Jamaica.  She came to the U.S. on a full scholarship when she was 18 and earned degrees in social work.  At 43, she decided a law degree would make her a better advocate.  She earned her J.D. in 1991 and began her law career with a clerkship for Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Sandy Keith.

She was executive director of the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota from 1995-2008.  During this period, she trained more than 250 volunteer lawyers to represent children in foster care.

In 2008, she ran for and won the open seat in the Second Judicial District.  There were eight candidates.  “I was unfamiliar with the process, but was interested in being a judge … I didn’t know, for example, what campaigning involved,” she said.  “With the help of the largest Asian and Pacific Islander community in the state and other supporters, we worked hard together, learned along the way, and won with 52% of the vote.”  That made her the first Asian American judge in Ramsey County.

Besides the Infinity Project, she also continues equity work with several other organizations.  We have a lot of work yet to do,” added Chang Bohr.

 

 

Judge Regina Chu retired, sleeping better

Main source: KSTP.com | Aug. 18, 2022

 

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Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu retired from the court in May 2022.  The mid-August interview with KSTP’s Eric Chaloux showed one of the last and high-profile cases of her career, the Kim Potter case, caused her many sleepless nights and still takes a toll on her, even in retirement.

She told Chaloux, “A very difficult decision, I thought a lot about what I would do, I recognized there would be a number of people that would disagree.”

Voice cracking and choking up at the February 2022 Kim Potter sentencing, she noted the case involved a “mistake that ended tragically ...” For her role in the case and her lighter-than-anticipated sentence for Potter, the very private Chu drew lots of negative comments on social media as well as protesters around her home.

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Chu was born in Detroit, Michigan.  She earned her B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1975. Her legal career began in 1977 as a law clerk to Hennepin County District Judge Donald Barbeau.  After earning a J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law in 1980, she clerked for Judge Douglas Amdahl on the Minnesota Supreme Court.  The following year, she became a special assistant attorney general.  Between 1985 and 2002, she was in private practice. 

Then, in 2002, Chu was appointed to the state’s Fourth Judicial District by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura, becoming the first female Asian American district judge in Minnesota.  She was re-elected three more times (2004, 2010, 2016).  She chose retirement rather than seeking re-election this year since she can only fulfil 1.5 years of the six-year term because of the mandatory retirement age (70).

Chu had served on Hennepin County Pro Bono Project Committee and at the Minnesota District Judges Civil Jury Instruction Guides Committee.  She also had been vice chair of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board and president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

“People come to court because they want to be heard, and they are entitled to be heard,” Chu said. “I believe, as a judge, you have an obligation to listen and listen very hard to try to determine what the facts are.”

Reflecting on her 20-year legal career, she said, “I just found the human story behind every case so fascinating.”  And for the soft-spoken Chu, the Potter case will probably be one of the most memorable and saddest case of her career.

 

 

Professor Erika Lee, author and historian, Harvard bound

Main source: Harvard Crimson | July 2022

 

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Erika Lee, the current University of Minnesota history and Asian American studies professor, will be headed to Harvard as the second of four ethnic studies professors hired for a new ethnic studies initiative.

In February 2022, Harvard announced the school was “actively recruiting” four scholars it had identified as part of the ethnic studies cluster hire.

Harvard Dean of Social Science Lawrence D. Bobo described Lee in a press release as “exactly the sort of eminent and impactful scholar” for its new program.  “Erika Lee is a trail-blazing historian of the Asian American experience.  There is no voice of greater authority in this domain,” he said.  “Moreover, she brings a keen and critical eye to recent anti-Asian, anti-immigrant and xenophobic movements in the U.S.  She is a truly powerful writer and voice, with wide influence across the social sciences and humanities.”

“I am incredibly honored to join Harvard’s amazing History Department and to help build Asian American and Ethnic Studies at the university,” Lee said. “I know that this is the result of decades of work by students, alumni, and faculty and I look forward to contributing to their efforts.”

Lee is the granddaughter of Chinese immigrants and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She testified before Congress in March 2021 during the historic hearings on discrimination and violence against Asian Americans. 

She is also the author of four award-winning books: “At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943,” “Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America,” “The Making of Asian America: A History” and the most recent, “America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States,” which was named to best book lists by Time, USA Today and Ms. Magazine. 

The Harvard Crimson reported that Lee will join Harvard as the first Bae Family Professor of History and as a professor at Radcliffe on July 1, 2023, but will be on leave until summer 2024.

 

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