Judge makes history in Maryland

Updated: 2014-03-25 12:28

By Chen Weihua in Rockville, Maryland (China Daily USA)

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 Judge makes history in Maryland

Eric Nee (right) took oath on Monday afternoon from Loretta Knight, clerk of the Circuit Court of the Montgomery County in Maryland, during his investiture as a judge of the District Court of Maryland's Sixth District. He has become the first Chinese American judge in Maryland. Chen Weihua / China Daily

The No 1 Courtroom in the District Court of Maryland's Six District in Montgomery County was missing its usual contentious mood on Monday afternoon. Instead, it was all joy and good cheer as Eric Nee took the oath to become the first Chinese-American judge in the state of Maryland.

In front of his family, parents, wife and son and more than 100 guests packed in the courtroom, Nee said he was very fortunate to learn from the masters around him and his friends in the prosecutor's office.

"That's how you learn your craft, because there is somebody who does the job better than you," said Nee, who was until Monday a senior assistant state attorney in Montgomery County, where he has been a prosecution team leader. His most recent assignment was in the major crimes division.

"I have been very fortunate to have done everything that a prosecutor could have done in his life. So it's a good time to move on to the next chapter," said Nee, clearly a bit emotional.

Susan Lee, a member of the State House of Delegates, said she and many of the people present wanted to thank Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley for making this historic appointment by naming Nee the first Chinese-American judge ever to be appointed in the state of Maryland.

"I think that's something, isn't it?" she said. Lee believes Nee will not only bring extraordinary legal expertise to the bench, but also his deep understanding of the challenges that face new immigrant communities.

"This is truly a victory not only for the Asian-American community, but for all our communities," she said.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, an African American, praised Nee for his leadership in the Asian-American community in Maryland. He described Nee as a "strong advocate for fairness, inclusion and diversity".

In his appointment letter for Nee as associate judge in the District Court of Maryland, District Six, Montgomery County, Governor O'Malley expressed his trust and confidence in the integrity, prudence and ability of the American-born Chinese to execute the duties with fidelity and zeal for the interest of the state.

The letter, read by the governor's deputy legal counsel Meghan Casey, said the appointment was for 10 years, commencing March 24, 2014.

William Chen, a member of the Trial Courts Nominating Commission which reviews the applications for trial court judicial vacancies and makes recommendations to the governor for the appointment to those vacancies, quoted one judge's letter to the commission, calling Nee "the most ethical lawyer he has known".

Chen also praised Nee for his service to the local community. "In my opinion, Eric is part of the melting pot that has significantly contributed to the greatness and opportunity of our country," he said.

John McCarthy, state attorney of Montgomery County, talked about how he knew Nee as a person by playing basketball together, describing Nee as a butcher at the game.

He joked that Nee has fancied himself as a basketball player and an athlete in basketball, baseball, softball and golf. "He is mediocre in all those," McCarthy said, triggering warm laughter from everyone there.

"But he is not mediocre in his work. Eric is a great litigator," he said. McCarthy talked at length about how Nee handled some of the toughest cases to put serious robbers and serial rapists behind bars.

"I was looking at all the cases he had tried, and I was in awe. How many wonderful accomplishments he has achieved working for you in Montgomery County," McCarthy said.

Nee's father went from the Chinese mainland to New York City's Chinatown in the 1950s. Nee was born in New York City's Chinatown and he still remembers growing up on the Mott Street there.

The family later moved to Montgomery County. His father worked in a restaurant while his mother worked at the University of Maryland, raising five children.

Nee earned both his bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Maryland. He was admitted to the bar in 1987 and served as assistant state's attorney for Prince George's County from 1988 to 1995.

Nee later worked as an attorney for the National Transportation Safety Board before becoming assistant state's attorney in Montgomery Country in 1999.

"They say that in life if you accomplish something really great, that's because you sit on tall shoulders. The shoulders that I sit on are my parents," said Nee, who had not until just recently made his first trip to the Chinese mainland.



(China Daily USA 03/25/2014 page1)