My family history & path to the bench

It is an honor today to publish this post by our distinguished alumna, the Honorable Carla Wong McMillian, Judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals since 2013. Born in Augusta, Georgia, she earned her Georgia Law J.D. degree summa cum laude in 1998. She is the first Asian Pacific American state appellate judge ever to be appointed in the Southeast, and, since 2014,  the first Asian American to be elected to a statewide office in Georgia. Judge McMillian also serves as President-Elect of the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association (GAPABA). Reflecting on these achievements in this essay, which we reprint courtesy of and with thanks to the Georgia Asian American Times, she writes:

Carla McMillianI am proud to be an American. I am equally as proud of my Asian American heritage.

I grew up in Augusta, Georgia, where the Chinese community has had a long history. The Chinese first immigrated to the city in 1872 to help build an extension of the Augusta Canal. These Chinese men — and it was all men in those days – began sending for their wives and children, and word spread that Augusta was a good place to immigrate and to make a new life.

My father’s parents were some of those who heard from others in their villages in southern China about Augusta. They originally immigrated to San Francisco, but moved to Georgia in the 1910’s and opened a small grocery store. In those days, if you were Chinese, you had two options to make a living in the South — open a laundry or a grocery store. My father was the youngest of six children and was born in the back room of that store where the family lived.

I am sure that my grandparents never dreamed that they would have a granddaughter who is a lawyer much less a judge. And although they did not know the language or the culture, they instilled in their children a love of this country and a service mindset. I am proud that my father and uncle are veterans who did their part to protect our freedom and way of life.

That’s my father’s side of the family – the Wongs from Augusta. But I also want to talk about my mother, who emigrated from Hong Kong to marry my dad. As a result, Chinese was my first language – that is what we primarily spoke at home before my siblings and I went to school.

One of my most distinct memories as a child was going into a courtroom and watching my mother be naturalized as an American citizen. I can remember my sister and me in our best dresses, standing with my father and watching my mother take her oath of allegiance to the United States. That was a proud day for my mother and for the rest of my family.

Growing up in an Asian American family in the Deep South, there just were not too many people outside of my family who looked like me, spoke like me, or ate the same kinds of foods at home. It used to be when I was a teenager that I wanted to cover up all of those differences and blend in. But as I have grown older, I have learned to embrace those differences because that is what makes our country so great.

I want to share with you that I never aspired to be a judge. I practiced for many years with a law firm in Atlanta where I expected to be for my entire career. But some judicial positions came open in my local jurisdiction. I almost did not apply. I was comfortable with my law practice and frankly I knew that even if I got the appointment, I would then have to run for election to keep my seat. I was fearful about facing the rigors of campaigning each election cycle. So after about a week of soul-searching, I had all but decided not to apply.

But I changed my mind one night as I was looking at my young children. I thought about what I wanted to tell them twenty years from now, about seizing opportunities and about doing what I could to serve the community where they will be growing up. So I applied for the judgeship and was appointed initially to the trial court and later to the Court of Appeals.

As a judge, I have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution. The Constitution ensures that we are a nation of laws, but it begins with the simple words, “We, the people.” Therefore, we must remember that key to the concept that we are a nation of laws is the notion of equality — the belief that “all men are created equal.” No one is above the law, and no one is so low that they cannot avail themselves of the law’s protection.

We must always remind our children that the rights and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution are there for us all. Without them, I would not be in the position that I am in today. The Constitution gives everyone an opportunity to fulfill their potential, even for someone like me who came from a family of immigrants because by protecting the rights that the Declaration of Independence declares to be God-given, the Constitution provides each of us the freedom and opportunity to pursue our own destiny. I am honored to serve as the first Asian American on our Court of Appeals and as the first Asian American to be elected to statewide office in Georgia.

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UN affiliate CIFAL Atlanta: Our new International Judicial Training partner

Cifal AtlantaBeginning this year, Georgia Law’s annual International Judicial Training will be offered in partnership with CIFAL Atlanta, an affiliate of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, or UNITAR.

UNITAR_Vertical_Logo_35mm_Blue-Pantone279C-01-pngCIFAL Atlanta joins an International Judicial Training partnership forged in the late 1990s by Georgia Law’s 2016IJT_fullDSDean Rusk International Law Center and the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education of Georgia. For nearly 20 years, the trainings have provided provided a high-level learning experience to foreign judges. Included are seminars with distinguished Georgia Law faculty and visits to a variety of courts around the state.

As one of several training centers across the globe linked to UNITAR, CIFAL Atlanta works to build capacity among local governments and civil society leaders, with particular emphases on economic and infrastructure development, fair trade, and good governance.

The 2016 International Judicial Training, to be held November 27 to December 10, will advance Goal 16 of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is

E_SDG_Icons-16“dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.”

Leaders of the new collaboration, which extends the trainings’ global outreach, include two Georgia Law graduates: Chris Young, CIFAL Executive Director, and Laura Tate Kagel, Director of International Professional Education at the Dean Rusk International Law Center. They work alongside Richard Reaves, Executive Director of the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education of Georgia, who brings decades of experience in organizing continuing education seminars for judges. Reaves’ extensive contacts throughout Georgia create opportunities for informative exchanges between the international judges and their U.S. counterparts. In Kagel’s words:

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In Georgia Law’s James E. Butler Courtroom, Richard Reaves talks with foreign judges during an International Judicial Training

“The International Judicial Training is more than simply an educational program. It can lead to significant reforms in terms of effective administration of justice and stimulate cross-cultural relationships that can bear fruit for years to come.”

Providing an example of this is Fernando Cerqueira Norberto, Secretary-General of ENFAM, the governing body of Brazilian judicial colleges. According to Cerqueira, Brazilian judges’ longstanding participation in the International Judicial Training correlates to the adoption in his country of innovations such as small claims courts, mediation procedures, and drug courts.

Judges and court personnel from all countries are welcome to apply for the 2016 International Judicial Training; further details and registration are available here.

Justice John Paul Stevens Public Interest Fellowships, Summer 2016

John_Paul_Stevens,_SCOTUS_photo_portraitBeginning this year, the University of Georgia School of Law will award two of its current students Justice John Paul Stevens Public Interest Fellowships of $5,000 each in order to support their summer placements in public interest law. The initiative marks a new partnership between Georgia Law and the John Paul Stevens Fellowship Foundation, which was established by former law clerks of Stevens, who served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1975 until his retirement in 2010. His 2013 speech to the Georgia Law community, entitled “Originalism and History,” is web-archived here, and available in the Georgia Law Review here.

Among the Justice’s former clerks are a Georgia Law alumna, Merritt E. McAllister, now a partner at King & Spalding LLP in Atlanta, and two Georgia Law faculty members, Diane Marie Amann, Associate Dean for International Programs & Strategic Initiatives and Emily & Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law, and Professor Sonja R. West.

The award of a Justice John Paul Stevens Fellowship recognizes a Georgia Law student’s commitment to public service and potential for excellence throughout his or her legal career.  Deadline to apply is April 4, 2016; interested Georgia Law students should contact Kathleen A. Doty,  doty[at]uga[dot]edu, Associate Director of Global Practice Preparation at the Dean Rusk International Law Center.

Georgia Law LLMs benefit from Atlanta professional development trip

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Xiao Zhang at U.S. Courthouse

Professional development took an Atlanta turn this week when our LLM Class of 2016 traveled to our state capital to learn more about the judiciary and private-sector law.

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Justice Hines talks with students

The day began with a visit to the Supreme Court of Georgia, founded more than a 170 years ago. There, Presiding Justice P. Harris Hines talked with the students about the jurisprudence produced by him and his 6 colleagues on the high bench.

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Judge Martin talks about CA11

Accompanied by Dean Rusk International Law Center staffers Laura Tate Kagel and Kathleen A. Doty, the LLM students then went to the U.S. Courthouse. They

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Mahemud Tekuya & Elisha Atulomah at U.S. Courthouse

toured the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and heard from our 1981 JD alumna, Judge Beverly B. Martin.

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Mark J. Newman, partner at Troutman Sanders LLP, talks with LLMs

The day ended with lunch and practice briefings at the Atlanta office of the global law firm Troutman Sanders LLP, where they were treated to lunch and briefings on legal practice by Mark J. Newman and others.

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From left, Socorro Moctezuma Flores, Miguel Medina Cordoba, Oluwakemi Kusemiju, and Simon Wolffram at U.S. Courthouse

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Huajin Tang, Gladys Ashiru & Tingting Tang at U.S. Courthouse

Our thanks to all who made this day a great success.