First Hmong American judge in U.S. appointed in Merced County

From his struggles as a child in refugee camps to his appointment on Friday to the Merced County Superior Court bench, Paul C. Lo said he is honored to “make a little bit of history.”

Lo, 45, is the first Hmong-American judge appointed in the United States, according to Gov. Jerry Brown’s office. The governor’s office said that Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil liberties advocacy group, confirmed the appointment’s significance.

“I think this appointment really speaks to the wonderful educational opportunities and achievements available in this country for people that come here to work hard,” Lo told the Merced Sun-Star.

Aa Merced resident and practicing attorney for 20 years, Lo reflected on the achievement Friday, saying it was particularly meaningful because of his parents’ struggle to provide him with opportunities.

“I’m so thankful and so proud of them for what they had to do going through the Vietnam War, and what they and everyone in their generation sacrificed, and all the lives that were lost so that we could be here today,” Lo said. “I have always felt a deep debt of gratitude for those who died to bring us to this country.”

He did not speak English when he came to the United States at the age of 11, Lo said, but eventually mastered the language and worked hard at his studies.

He said he received the call from the governor’s office just before Christmas. “I knew there were several excellent candidates, and it’s never a sure thing, so I was very excited to receive it, and it was a very nice surprise for everyone,” he said.

Lo was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1994 and has been a solo legal practitioner since 2003, according to State Bar records.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from UC Davis and his law degree from the UCLA School of Law.

His starting salary as a judge will be $181,292, the governor’s office said in a news release. Lo is filling the vacancy left by the retirement of Judge Hugh M. Flanagan, who stepped down over the summer after serving 13 years.

Larry D. Morse II, Merced County district attorney, congratulated Lo on the achievement.

“I think it’s a tremendous appointment that will be a great source of pride for the community,” Morse said. “Paul has been a leader since he arrived in Merced, and with his diverse background in many areas of law I think he’s an excellent choice and I commend the governor for making it.”

Linda Romero Soles, executive officer of the Merced County Superior Court, said the court staff was “ecstatic” over Lo’s selection. Soles said she preferred not to comment on which judicial assignment Lo may receive until he has discussed it with the court’s staff first.

“We’re excited to be meeting with him next week to work out the scheduling, the ceremony and to determine when he may be able to take the bench,” she said.

A formal swearing-in ceremony has yet to be scheduled.

Lo said it could take “a few months” for him to wind up his private practice on West 20th Street in Merced.

He said he is excited to continue serving the Merced community.

“My wife and I have five children and I came here to raise a family,” Lo said, “and Merced has always been a great place. It’s an honor to help make a little bit of history here at home.”