Obama wants Fil-Am lawyer as federal judge

/ 05:03 AM April 27, 2012

Lorna Schofield

LOS ANGELES—US President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated Filipino-American trial attorney Lorna Schofield to serve as a federal district court judge for the Southern District of New York.

If confirmed by the United States Senate, Schofield would become the first Filipino-American federal judge.


Fil-Am groups lauded Schofield’s nomination, saying it was a big win for diversity. “Given that Asian-Americans are significantly underrepresented in the federal judiciary, Ms Schofield’s addition will greatly enhance the judiciary’s diversity,” said Ed Navarra, national chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).

“It’s long overdue,” said lawyer Arnedo Valera, executive director of the Migrant Heritage Commission based in Washington, DC. “It’s good for America to have diverse perspectives, whether it’s national origin, gender or ideology.”


Schofield, 56, is the daughter of a Filipino woman who immigrated to the United States during the post-World War II reconstruction of the Philippines.

Scholar at NYU

She grew up in a blue-collar community in the US Midwest where she earned a full scholarship for her undergraduate education at Indiana University. She double-majored in German and English, graduating magna cum laude in 1977. Schofield went to New York University Law School, where she was a Pomeroy scholar and became editor of the NYU Law Review.

Schofield worked at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP as litigation partner for nearly 20 years. In 1991, she became the firm’s first minority partner.

She also served as an assistant US attorney in the criminal division of the Southern District of New York. She became the first Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) to chair the Litigation Section of the American Bar Association, and the National Law Journal named her one of the nation’s 50 most influential minority lawyers.



“We are proud and delighted that our friend and colleague Lorna Schofield has achieved this highly deserved recognition,” John S. Kiernan, cochair of Debevoise & Plimpton’s litigation department, said in a statement sent to the Inquirer. “She is an extraordinary lawyer and person,” Kiernan said.

Lawyer Jason T. Lagria, KAYA national cochair, said he hoped Schofield’s nomination would inspire members of the Fil-Am community “to follow in her footsteps.”

“It is exciting to finally see a Filipino-American serving as a federal judge,” Lagria said. “Growing up, [I had not seen]  many Filipino lawyers I could look to as role models.”

Lagria praised Obama for pushing through an unprecedented diversification of the federal judiciary system. When Obama took office, there were only eight AAPI Article III federal judges out of 874, Lagria said. Article III judges are nominated by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and given lifetime tenure.

“In just over three years Obama has doubled the number of AAPI federal judges,” Lagria said. “His nomination of Attorney Schofield affirms his administration’s commitment to the Filipino-American community and to have a judiciary that reflects the nation it serves.”

Rosie O’Donnell’s lawyer

Schofield was thrust into the limelight when she led the defense team of celebrity talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell in a $100-million lawsuit brought against the TV celebrity in 2003.

She once more gained wide attention after US Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) recommended her to the White House on Jan. 23 as a candidate for federal district court judge in the Southern District of New York.

Essential values

Schofield described the lawsuit against O’Donnell as her “most memorable and most fun case,” according to The College Magazine, a publication of Indiana University.

The publisher of Rosie Magazine brought a $100-million lawsuit against O’Donnell for abruptly pulling out of their business partnership. The case was thrown out, and Schofield was quoted by a newspaper as saying: “The judge’s comment that this was an ill-conceived case was very gratifying to us. Rosie never wanted to get into this. They picked the fight and Rosie feels vindicated.”

After the trial, Schofield was interviewed on several TV programs, including “The Today Show.” On “Sixty Minutes II,” Dan Rather interviewed her on corporate confidentiality agreements and sealing orders.

Schofield told The College Magazine that her mother, a pharmacist, “stressed achievement, independence and self-sufficiency as essential values.”

“My mother came to the United States because of her idealism about the country that had saved her during World War II, and remained here, I believe, because of the stigma and shame she would have suffered had she returned to the Philippines as a divorced woman,” Schofield said.

Sharing her thoughts on diversity, she said it’s important for people who are involved in the justice system—lawyers, litigants and judges—“to see lawyers of every type leading the profession.”

“The message is that our legal system is open and accessible to all, whether they come as advocates or litigants.  Because the world we live in is diverse, and becoming increasingly so.  We can learn from each other,” she said. “Every unique perspective brings something valuable to the table.”

Originally posted at 09:33 pm | Thursday, April 26, 2012

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