The 16 minute video is unusual because it shows judges revealing who they are beyond the trappings of the bench and their judicial robes. It’s part of the Santa Clara County Superior Court’s observance of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
“I think that when litigants and witnesses enter our courthouse and they see decision makers who look like them, they feel more comfortable sharing the truth,” said Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Audra Ibarra.
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Judge Ibarra said she practiced law eight years before she ever had a case before an AAPI judge. Now there are 14 in Santa Clara County Superior Court. In the video, many indicated they are immigrants or the children of immigrants.
“My immigration story begins with my mother’s escape from North Korea in the spring of 1946 when she was about 11 years old,” said Judge Lucy Koh of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
“My parents came to the United States from China unbelievably during World War II in the late 30s and early 40s,” said Judge Pamela Chen of the U.S. District Court.
As the President of the California Asian Pacific American Judges Association, Judge Ibarra says their diverse backgrounds bring cultural and historic sensitivity to their work and extend empathy to litigants, witnesses and jurors.
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“I know firsthand how minorities suffer little slights and indignities intentionally and unintentionally almost daily,” she said. “There’s no room for that in our society.”
The judges in the video hope by sharing their backgrounds that this demonstrates their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. It may make the courtroom setting less intimidating and give confidence to the public of the judges’ commitment to justice.
“I think there’s a lot of things that 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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