Former UC Law SF Prof. Eumi Lee Confirmed as U.S. District Judge

Former UC Law SF Clinical Professor Eumi Lee was confirmed by the U.S. Senate this week to serve as a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of California.

Eumi K. Lee, who trained hundreds of future attorneys while serving as a clinical professor at UC Law SF for 13 years, became one of the newest members of the federal bench this week.

The U.S. Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s nomination of her to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in 50-49 vote on Wednesday.

Lee was a clinical professor at UC Law SF from 2005 to 2018 and served as Co-Founder and Co-Director of the law school’s Institute for Criminal Justice from 2010 to 2012.

Professor Ascanio Piomelli, who co-taught the Individual Representation Clinic and Social Justice Lawyering Concentration Seminar with Lee, described her as a caring, demanding, and hard-working professor who cared deeply about preparing students for the real world. He listed qualities that he believes will serve her well as a federal judge.

“Being fair minded and even-handed are fundamental to her approach,” Piomelli said. “She cares about making sure everyone who appears before her understands what’s going on and feels respected.”

Lee left UC Law SF in 2018 when she was appointed by former California Gov. Jerry Brown to serve as a judge on the Alameda County Superior Court, making her the first Korean American to hold such a position.

Lee helped introduce the clean-slate practice to the Individual Representation Clinic, allowing law students to help people clear criminal records that constitute barriers to obtaining jobs, housing, and other opportunities.

“She was a very thoughtful and purposeful teacher,” said Professor Gail Silverstein, Associate Dean of Experiential Learning and Co-Director of the Center for Social Justice at UC Law SF. “She used a variety of different exercises to engage with students’ different learning styles.”

Lee also served as a mentor to many law students, including Anna Kirsch ’11, who now serves as Deputy Attorney General in the Worker Rights and Fair Labor Section of the California Department of Justice. Kirsch said the clinic taught by Lee was the most transformative experience of her law school career and sparked her interest in labor law and workers’ rights issues.

“She taught me how to do a direct and cross-examination, how to draft discovery-related motions, and prepare for court appearances,” Kirsch said. “But she also taught me how to practice client-centered representation and how to be an ethical practitioner.”

After law school, Lee continued to serve as a mentor to Kirsch, steering her toward postgraduate opportunities that allowed her to develop additional skills and experience in the field of workers’ rights.

“I’m very grateful to have her in my life,” Kirsch said. “She is a good friend and mentor, and I think a lot of students feel that way.”

Lee earned her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C. and her bachelor’s degree from Pomona College in Southern California. Before teaching at UC Law SF, she clerked for a federal judge in the Western District of Tennessee and for a circuit judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She previously served as an ethics trainer for three California utility companies from 2009 to 2012; as counsel and consultant at Gonzalez & Leigh from 2006 to 2012; and as an associate at Keker Van Nest from 2002 to 2005.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla of California described Lee as the proud daughter of parents who survived the Korean War before immigrating to the United States and as a dedicated public servant who has mentored women, people of color, and those typically underrepresented in the legal profession.

“In private practice, in the classroom, and in the court room, she’s demonstrated the intellect and objectivity needed to serve the Northern District with distinction,” Padilla said.