South Bay AAPI Judges Share Personal Stories to Highlight Commitment to Equity and Inclusion

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) — Going to court can be daunting, especially for those unfamiliar with protocols and procedures. A group of South Bay judges are trying to change that with a video in which they share their personal sides without compromising their professionalism.

The 16-minute video is unusual as it shows judges revealing who they are beyond the trappings of the bench and their court robes. This is part of the Santa Clara County Superior Court’s celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

“I think when litigants and witnesses walk into our courthouse and see decision-makers who look like them, they feel more comfortable sharing the truth,” the Superior Court judge said. Santa Clara County, Audra Ibarra.

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Judge Ibarra said she practiced law eight years before she had a case before an AAPI judge. There are now 14 in Santa Clara County Superior Court. In the video, many said they were immigrants or children of immigrants.

“My immigration story begins with my mother’s flight from North Korea in the spring of 1946, when she was about 11 years old,” said U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Koh.

“My parents came to the United States from China in an incredible way during World War II in the late 1930s and early 1940s,” US District Court Judge Pamela Chen said.

As president of the California Asian Pacific American Judges Association, Judge Ibarra says their diverse backgrounds bring cultural and historical sensitivity to their work and extend empathy to litigants, witnesses and jurors.

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“I know firsthand how minorities suffer small slights and indignities intentionally and unintentionally almost daily,” she said. “There is no place for that in our society.”

The judges in the video hope that by sharing their backgrounds, it demonstrates their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. This can make the courtroom less intimidating and give the public confidence in the judges’ commitment to justice.

“I think there’s a lot we can share about ourselves with the community that others frequently share with us. So why shouldn’t we reciprocate?” said Judge Ibarra. “It’s wonderful to be able to do that.”

The video may inspire other judges and courts to do the same.

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