Interview with One of Our Newest Judges, Hon. Linda Lye

Interview with One of Our Newest Judges, Hon. Linda Lye

Before leaving office, Governor Jerry Brown appointed several new California Superior Court Judges at the end of 2018. The Contra Costa County Bar Association thanks each one for their service to the profession prior to becoming a judge, and appreciates their commitment to justice by becoming dedicated judges. On October 26, 2018, Judge Linda Lye was appointed to the California Superior Court, County of Contra Costa. Judge Lye was officially sworn in by then-Presiding Judge Jill Fannin and took the bench on November 26, 2018. Judge Lye is now hearing cases in Department 29 at the Richmond Courthouse. I had the opportunity to get to know Judge Lye and share some of her background and insights in this month’s President’s Message.

Wu: Thank you, Judge Lye, for letting all of us get to know more about you. First, tell us about why you became an attorney.

Hon. Linda Lye: I had worked in the California State Legislature before going to law school and realized that the political branches were not for me. I perceived votes on legislation to be more popularity contests – who were the sponsors of the bill – than contests of ideas. I wanted to work in an arena that was about the strength of your argument, not the strength of your PAC. I’ve always been a bit of an egghead. I love engaging with legal ideas and arguments, working through thorny legal issues until you can find an elegant solution. 

Wu: Why did you want to become a judge?

Hon. Linda Lye: I was a public interest lawyer for almost 20 years before I became a judge, first at a plaintiff-side labor and employment law firm and then at the ACLU. I went into public interest law because I believed, and still believe, that the role of the courts in our society is to serve as a forum where all litigants can get a fair hearing, no matter what they look like or where they come from. Becoming a judge has been a tremendous honor and privilege and has allowed me to weave together the two dominant threads of my legal career – my love of legal ideas, and my abiding belief that the role of the courts is to dispense justice.

Wu: What were some challenges you faced as a female and/or Asian American attorney?

Hon. Linda Lye: The common stereotype of Asian Americans, especially Asian American women, is that they are meek or subservient. Especially as a new lawyer, I ran into opposing counsel who would be even more bullying than the run-of-the-mill irritating opposing counsel. I think they assumed I would just cave. But you learn to hold your ground and let it roll off of you. That old adage is very apt: Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought of half as good. For Asian American women, it might be four times as well.

There are also a lot of stereotypes about Asian Americans lacking leadership skills. Fortunately, I worked at a firm that was very supportive and committed to making me partner. I’m incredibly grateful to have “grown up” as a lawyer in that environment.

Wu: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been in the spotlight lately. Please share any insight/information regarding your experiences as a law clerk for Justice Ginsburg.

Hon. Linda Lye: I certainly won the legal equivalent of the lottery when she picked me to be a law clerk. I clerked for her during the 2000 October Term–so before, as my co-clerks and I joke, she was famous. It’s funny to think of her as such an icon. Although she was obviously a major figure even then, she’s personally very shy and unassuming.

She’s inspiring in so many ways. I couldn’t do justice to them all in a short interview. But certainly one thing that sticks out is that Justice Ginsburg has always had the long view. She had the long view when it came to her vision of gender equality—crafting a masterful legal strategy by first bringing cases that challenged discrimination against men. And her reaction to politicized cases during the term in which I clerked was no different. She might be in the dissent in various high-stakes cases, but she has a long-term vision and holds true to her ideals with more tenacity and persistence than seems humanly possible. Perhaps relatedly, she’s also remarkably patient. She was incredibly generous in the way she sat down with her clerks and schooled us in the craft of legal writing. I still draw on those lessons today.

Wu: Thank you, Judge Lye, for being so candid and open! We are lucky to have you on our County bench.