Earlier this year, California Governor Jerry Brown made history when he appointed UCLA Law alumnus Paul Lo to the Merced County Superior Court Bench. Lo, who will be sworn in this Friday, will be the nation’s first Hmong American judge.
Said Karin Wang of Asian Americans Advancing Justice back in Januaryto the UCLA Daily Bruin:
“It is both historic and inspirational to have the nation’s first Hmong American judge in California’s Central Valley, which is home to one of the nation’s largest Hmong populations,” Wang said.
Merced currently has the fifth highest Hmong American population in the United States, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Lo immigrated to the United States in 1979 as a non-English speaking immigrant at age 11 as refugees from the Vietnam War. Lo’s family grew up poor and on welfare, but Lo was spurred by a high school teacher to pursue a career in law to help support the Hmong American community.
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 at Davis and his law degree from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.
Lo spoke no English when he came to the United States at the age of 11, but eventually mastered the language, working hard through school, college and law school.
He said he appreciates the appointment’s historic relevance, but said it wouldn’t change “the person I am now.”
“I think a lot of people in the Hmong community are very proud of it, but I’m equally excited for the opportunity to serve this community, this town,” Lo said.
Lo’s appointment not only contributes to increasing diversity on the bench in California but also elevates a dedicated community advocate, who has devoted his life towards improving legal rights for Hmong Americans, an often over-looked and marginalized ethnic group within the Asian American community. Although Asian Americans remain underrepresented in state and federal judiciaries, Lo’s appointment is an important step forward.
“(Lo) provides needed diversity for our bench. Our bench is starting to look like the population,” said Judge Brian McCabe of the Merced County Superior Court, who worked with Lo as partners in the same firm.
“My true passion to go into law was to be an advocate for the Hmong community,” he said.
The public is invited to attend Lo’s swearing-in ceremony this Friday, which will take place at 4pm at the Art Kamanger Centre at the Merced Theatre, 301 Main St.