Nation’s Second Hmong American Judge is Elected in Milwaukee County

Congratulations to Kristy Yang from the members of the Hmong American Bar Association!


Nation’s second Hmong-American judge is elected in Milwaukee County

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Bruce Vielmetti , Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Published 9:06 p.m. CT April 4, 2017 | Updated 11:01 a.m. CT April 5, 2017

An Oak Creek lawyer who came to America as a child refugee was elected to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court on Tuesday, becoming only the second Hmong-American jurist in the nation.

Kashoua “Kristy” Yang, of Oak Creek, defeated Scott Wales of Fox Point in the race for an open seat in Branch 47, whose incumbent John Siefert announced last year he would not seek re-election.

Both lawyers were first-time candidates for circuit judge.

Yang, her parents and most of her 10 siblings were gathered at Bounce Milwaukee on the south side to watch returns, and celebrate her win.

“I don’t know that I was confident,” she said, “but I knew what I had to do — reach out to voters — and I felt good about what I was doing.”

The only other Hmong-American judge in the country, Paul Lo, has been on the Merced County Superior Court in California since 2014. He appeared at a fund-raiser for Yang.

Wales, 55, stressed his nearly 30 years of legal experience while Yang, 36, told voters about the hard work and values that helped her rise from a child refugee to running her own law practice.

Yang brought little to no traditional trial court experience to the race, as she’s practiced in family law mediation and Social Security disability and workers’ compensation since graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2009.

Wales’ campaign stressed trial work as a criminal defense attorney, plus his eight years as the part-time municipal judge in Fox Point and his 25 years as a paralegal studies instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College as a huge edge in practical experience.

But Yang brought an inspiring backstory to the race: She came to the United States as a 6-year-old refugee from Laos with her parents. She grew up in Sheboygan with 10 siblings, married young, divorced and worked her way through college as a single mother.

Yang earned a computer science degree with honors from Lakeland College, then worked six years in customer service and supply chain logistics at Kohler, a job that required travel around the United States and abroad before going to law school.

After about 10 years apart, she remarried her ex-husband and moved to the Milwaukee area.

Yang ran a TV spot that featured how she came here at age six with her family from Laos via a refugee camp in Thailand, and the only English she knew was, “Pepsi, please.” She said she got “overwhelmingly positive” feedback from voters about the spot.

Wales’ campaign forced him to publicly talk about a childhood birth defect, Moebius syndrome, that left his face and tongue partially paralyzed, something that led to childhood bullying until extensive work with a therapist helped him speak normally. He said constant questions about why he wasn’t smiling in his campaign photo prompted him to explain his condition, and turn it into a challenge he overcame.

Wales grew up on the North Shore and has practiced law more than 25 years in Wisconsin, mostly in criminal defense, and as the part-time municipal judge in Fox Point, where he lives. Numerous judges, prosecutors and other lawyers endorsed his candidacy.

The 47 circuit judges in Milwaukee County rotate among divisions that hear misdemeanor and felony crimes, family law cases, probate, small claims, general civil and children’s court matters. Judges serve six-year terms and earn about $132,000 annually.

Federal Court beat: Number of Hmong attorneys growing in Minnesota

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Federal court beat: Number of Hmong attorneys growing in Minnesota
Randy Furst, Star Tribune


Just as the face of Minnesota is changing, so is its legal community.

Chances are you were unaware there are 62 licensed Hmong attorneys in Minnesota.

That’s according to Adam Yang, past president of the Hmong American Bar Association. “I think it’s great,” says Yang. “We are becoming more American.”

Yang, 44, is an attorney in the Hennepin County Public Defenders Office, where he’s been since 2001.

He came to the United States from Laos with his parents and siblings in 1980 when he was about 9. His parents wanted him to do well in school and become a doctor, he says. He got a bachelor of science and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Minnesota and wanted to be a patent lawyer. He went to law school at Hamline University, then got interested in the Neighborhood Justice Center, where he worked before moving on to become an assistant public defender.

He currently represents juveniles and likes the work. “In my opinion I am defending the Constitution,” he says. “We want to make the courts provide due process, make sure their rights are protected.”

Yang guesses that more than half the state’s Hmong attorneys are in private practice. One of them is Nom Fue Thao, 40, who helped revive the Hmong American Bar Association in 2010 and became its president. Thao said his main work is in personal injuries and bankruptcies, and 95 percent of his clients are Hmong.

Almost all the state’s Hmong attorneys were refugees “born in the old country,” as he puts it, either from Laos or Thailand. But there is a big need for attorneys, he says.

“We have a lot of people who don’t have access to legal representation, they don’t know who to turn to, they don’t know their legal rights, and they don’t know they have a right to an attorney.”

“Hmong people have the same issues as everybody else,” said Ma Manee Moua, a St. Paul attorney, who represents both Hmong and non-Hmong clients. “I am extremely busy.”• 612-673-4224 Twitter: @randyfurst

Lo Becomes Merced County Judge; First Hmong Judge in U.S.

Lo becomes Merced County judge; first Hmong judge in U.S.

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Judge Paul Lo tried to hold back tears Friday as he spoke about the men and women who paved the way to his spot on the Merced County Superior Court bench.

“This moment goes to a generation of quiet but brave and unselfish Hmong-Americans who suffered, endured and sacrificed much,” the 45-year-old said. “Those of us who grew up in this country are beneficiaries of the American Dream because of their sacrifices.”

Lo made history Friday when he became the first Hmong person to become a judge in the United States. The Merced Theatre was packed with hundreds of people who came to see the ceremony. Those in attendance gave multiple standing ovations.

“I’m glad to play a small part in this historic moment,” Lo said.

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Lo, a veteran attorney, to the Superior Court bench in late December. The historic significance of the appointment has been confirmed by the governor’s office and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil liberties advocacy group.

Lo spoke no English when he came to the United States from Laos at the age of 11, but eventually mastered the language, working hard through high school, college and law school. He lauded the opportunities that this country provided, saying he would have had few of them as the child of poor farmers in a remote Hmong village.

He held back tears as he described the harrowing journey people of his parents’ generation made to reach the United States. Many Hmong people braved thousands of miles of jungle, raging waters and refugee camps after fighting on the side of the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

Presiding Judge Brian McCabe gave Lo the oath of office. The two men have known each other since 1994 and have worked as associates and partners at a law firm. McCabe described Lo as intelligent, hard-working, efficient and effective.

After he took the oath, Lo put on his official judge’s robe. Attending the ceremony with his wife, Kaonou, he thanked his family and five children, whom he called “the pride and joy of my life.”

Merced’s Mayor Pro-Tem Noah Lor addressed the audience in Hmong, thanking the generations of Hmong who made the trek to the U.S.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, praised Lo and told the crowd that the judicial branch plays an important role in the American system of governance. He also said Lo’s story serves as an example of what so many immigrants aspire to. “This is a reaffirmation of what America’s all about,” he said.

Another guest speaker, UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland, spoke fondly of Lo, who was a supporter of the university before it ever broke ground. “Paul is a living example of the power of education to transform lives and to transform communities,” she said.

Lo will now preside over civil cases in Merced County. His starting salary as a judge is $181,292, according to the governor’s office.

Lo was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1994 and has been a solo legal practitioner since 2003, according to State Bar records. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Davis and his law degree from UCLA School of Law.

Merced has the fifth largest Hmong-American population in the country.

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Hmong Times: Hmong American Bar Association Hosts Workshops for Hmong Community

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Hmong American Bar Association Hosts Workshops for Hmong Community

By Amy Doeun

In this time of economic turmoil there are a lot of legal issues facing everyday people. The Hmong American Bar Association (HABA) has seen a need for information about the basics of the law. They approached New Millennium Academy in Minneapolis. Pal Yang of New Millennium, a K-8 public charter school, said “They needed a partner with a group base, which we have. We have about 200 families at our school. They also needed a facility.”

So on Saturday, March 10, HABA and New Millennium are going to host a series of workshops on the following topics. 1. Foreclosure and Bankruptcy; 2. Immigration; 3. Criminal Sexual Conduct and Driving while Intoxicated; and 4. Teenage Marriage and its impact on Hmong Women.

The day will start at 9:00 and end around 1:30. The 4 workshops will be repeated twice so that attendees may attend 2 of the four workshops. Each workshop will last for one hour.

Nom Fue Thao, President of HABA explained that years ago, when the housing market was strong, many homes were purchased using a 80/20 loan, meaning 80% of the loan was on the first mortgage and 20% of the loan was on the second. Now with foreclosures on the rise the home goes to the first mortgage holder and the 2nd mortgage holder comes after the borrower as “unsecured debt.” Then you have to either discharge it in a bankruptcy or try to settle it. Thao and the other attorneys will be able to answer questions about bankruptcy as well, such as who qualifies; how it might affect you; and what you get to keep.

Another important topic to Thao is teenage marriage. He explained, “We are seeing problems in marriages that happened awhile ago where the husband was overage and the wife underage. Now they are middle age but there is still a conflict. Perhaps the wife is trying to live a younger life than the husband’s lifestyle. So we want to educate the community on how it affects women,” even years down the road.

“We are seeing DWI [driving while intoxicated] on the rise, not only in the Hmong community but the new immigrant community, the Karen and Burmese” This workshop will explain what a DWI is and how it affects you and why you must have a designated driver.

Following the workshops there will be a panel discussion where those in attendance can ask the gathered experts any legal questions that may not have been covered in the workshop.

Yang added, we picked the topics because we felt these were topics that impacted the Hmong Community but it is open to the public anyone may attend.

Lunch will be provided. If you are interested in attending please register to help them plan the event by calling HABA at (651) 379-0801.

HABA is in its 2nd year and strives to offer community education events like the one above as well as educational, social and networking opportunities for its members.