Thoughts from Korea's First U.S. State Supreme Court Judge

      July 22, 2008 07:25

      Danny Chun

      "I was confident in my Korean but it was a challenge to teach U.S. law in Korean. Fortunately, attendance is good and not many students doze."

      The first and only ethnic Korean justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Danny Chun on Tuesday completes a summer course at Yonsei University that started June 30 after signing a one-year contract with the school.

      Chun (46) is teaching Introduction to American Law to undergraduates and Criminal Procedural Law to graduate students. Visiting Seoul on his break, he tested his students Sunday and will now return to the U.S. with the exam papers.

      In Seoul, he stayed with his in-laws in Gwanghwamun. Traffic jams due to the anti-U.S. beef protests in the area proved a nuisance. "It's not fair to compare the U.S. and Korea since they have different historical backgrounds, but such protests are impossible in America," he told the Chosun Ilbo.

      "Illegal demonstrations are firmly suppressed with teargas and troopers. Protests occupying the streets and inconveniencing the general public are beyond my understanding. How is subduing illegal protestors a violation of human rights?"

      Chun moved to the U.S. in 1973, when he was a sixth-grader. He studied political science and philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and graduated from Fordham University School of Law. Even before becoming a judge of the New York State Supreme Court, he had achieved several such "first" titles for a Korean: the first assistant district attorney for the New York County District Attorney's Office in 1987, and the first judge at the Criminal Court of New York City, Kings County in 1999.

      "I was never discriminated against because of my race, but defendants and the audience often give me strange looks. Especially when I see offenders against Koreans showing remorse at the sight of a Korean judge, I feel committed to raising Korean power in the U.S. judiciary," he says.

      After 21 years in the legal profession, he is pondering his next step. "I don't think I'll continue until the retirement age of 70. I'm wondering whether I should go for another nine years, take the retirement pay and teach at a university or start out as an attorney. I love my work, but supporting my two kids, who are in their early teens, through college is a tough task."

      He might even get a full-time job in Korea. "If the Korean legal market opens up allowing entry of U.S. firms, I want to help out on Korea's side. I've lived in the U.S. for a long time, but I still hum along to Korean pop songs."

      His favorite bands are SG Wannabe, MC The Max and Buzz. His wife is a certified teacher of English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), "so if we move to Korea, her teaching job will pay better than mine, right?" Told by the Chosun Ilbo that he is rather more candid than Korean judges, who shy away from talking about money, he agreed he is "extremely candid indeed."

      Chun was skeptical about Korea's introduction of U.S.-style law schools since existing Korean colleges of law were not much different from the U.S. law schools, "but now they're being introduced, I believe schools should have the autonomy to increase enrollment."

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