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Doris Ling-Cohan: First Asian Female Judge in NYS Supreme Court
Doris Ling-Cohan, a female civil judge, grew up in Manhattan’s Chinatown, New York. She was nominated by the Manhattan Democratic Party for selection, and was widely supported by the Democratic Party, Republican Party, Liberal Party and the Working Family Party. On November 5, 2002, Ling-Cohan was elected as a New York State Supreme Court judge, with more than 230,000 votes, to become the first Asian female judge in New York’s Supreme Court history.

Ling-Cohan, whose parents wash and iron clothes for a living, had an ordinary family life. When just 16, and at senior high school, Ling began working part-time at a clothing factory to help support the family. She realized at a very young age that new immigrants to America have to work much longer and harder than others. She pushed herself to acquire knowledge and skills. After graduating with exceptional grades from senior high school, Doris went on to become a student at the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. She was later awarded a full scholarship and pursued further studies at New York University (NYU).

After graduating from Law at NYU in 1979, Ling-Cohan became a district court layer for seven years and then worked at the New York State Attorney General’s consumer fraud protection unit for five years. She also once worked as deputy in charge of legal counsel for the NYC Department for the Aging.

Doris insisted on being elected to higher positions, instead of being politically appointed, because, as she explained, judges who can continually withstand the test of public opinion have a greater chance of being promoted to Supreme Court Judge.

“I never expected to become a judge,” she said. There were previously no Asian judges in New York’s judicial system and she says she has never even seen any Asian bailiffs, scribes or secretaries. “Actually, Asian people seldom appear in court, and when they do they are frequently mistaken for interpreters.” Since becoming a lawyer and prosecuting attorney, Ling-Cohan has sometimes been confronted with these awkward situations.

With more Asian people coming to America in recent years, the number of people studying at law schools has been increasing. Yet in various New York courts, the number of the Asian judges is still very small indeed, and the ratio of Asian judges compared to the Asian population is very much out of proportion. Currently, there are only four Asian male judges in the Family Court, Criminal Court, Higher Court and Supreme Court respectively and five female Asian judges: three in the Housing Court and two in the Civil Court. Altogether, there are only four elected Asian judges, and only six Asian female judges from a total of 3,900 judges in New York.

With regards to training Asian female leaders, Ling-Cohan believes the most important thing is that females should not only have specific goals in mind, but also specific ideas on how to achieve their goals. The second thing is to encourage more females to accept leadership roles and promote their self achievements to inspire others. She believes that females can be leaders in both family and daily life.

Ling-Cohan finally noted that it’s important for more females to show their talent before public without fear or hesitation.

(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, December 26, 2002)

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