Judge Youlee Yim You

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Youlee Yim You

Judge You was sworn in as one of Multnomah County's circuit court judges in 2007. After spending a few minutes with her for this profile, it became very clear that Judge You is a dignified, respectful and conscientious person who possesses all the attributes that both attorneys and parties alike want to see in a judge. To appreciate how the strengths and qualities of her character developed, it is important to know a little about her background. Judge You's story is a story of a proud family, education and hard work. Because of the limited space allowed, we can touch on only some highlights.

This story starts in the early 1950s during the Korean War. Judge You's mother entered a beauty pageant in South Korea. That gave her mother the opportunity to flee the poverty of South Korea and study in the United States. She first went to New York, where she met Judge You's father, who had recently fled Cuba during the Cuban revolution. Also during the war, an uncle of Judge You was fortunate enough to work as a houseboy for an American Army officer stationed in Korea. After returning to the United States, the officer sponsored her uncle's immigration here. Upon arrival, the uncle's "everyone-is-wealthy" image of the US was quickly shattered, when on the road from San Diego, they had to eat beans out of cans heated on the car engine.

Because Judge You's mother and father lacked the resources to raise a child, her mother moved to Seattle to live with her sister and brother-in-law. Judge You was raised in an extended family consisting of her mother, two aunts, an uncle, a cousin and her grandmother. The family lived together for both cultural and financial reasons. While the rest of the family worked and/or attended school, Judge You's grandmother contributed to the community effort by keeping the house and caring for Judge You and her cousin. Judge You affectionately recalls how her grandmother carried both children in her arms to go for walks around the block.

When Judge You was four years old, she moved to California with her aunt, uncle and cousin. Her mother, who was attending the University of Washington (UW), stayed to work on her degree in urban planning and transportation. After graduating from UW, Judge You's mother attended graduate school at Harvard. She eventually obtained her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in transportation engineering.

Judge You grew up near Berkeley, California where she developed a sense of social responsibility. While in high school, she witnessed people at UC Berkeley speaking out and taking stands on numerous social causes, from which she acquired her own awareness of issues such as social inequality and poverty. Judge You was inspired to make a difference. After graduating from high school, she moved across the country to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she eventually obtained a degree in Economics and Urban Planning. While there, she spent one year studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After graduating from Wellesley, she attended the UW School of Law.

Judge You's first job after law school was with the Metropolitan Public Defender's office in Portland. There, she represented persons charged with felonies and represented both juveniles and adults in family court cases. In 1992, Judge You moved to the Oregon DOJ (DOJ) where she spent time researching and drafting criminal and civil appeals and representing a number of state agencies on administrative law matters. Although she had no real connections to her New York roots, she moved to Brooklyn in 1994 and began working for the Kings County District Attorney's Office - the third largest district attorney's office in the country. While at Kings County, she tried a number of complex felony cases such as homicide, rape and robbery. She also supervised other attorneys' complaint drafting, case preparation and trials. In 1997, she was promoted to deputy bureau chief.

In 1998, Judge You left the practice of law for a short time while she volunteered at Mother Teresa's Orphanage in Delhi, India. After that, she took a job as a death penalty staff attorney with the US District Court, Central District of California. For the next four and a half years, Judge You worked for federal judges on habeas petitions filed by death row inmates. In 2004, she returned to the DOJ as a senior assistant attorney general, where she represented the State of Oregon in both trial and appellate proceedings involving challenges to a variety of criminal convictions.

In addition to her time at Mother Teresa's Orphanage, Judge You has volunteered time for a number of civic groups and organizations. She sat on the Portland Planning Commission, the Korean American Citizens League and presently sits on the Public Service Advisory Committee for the OSB. In 1999, she received the Pro Bono Service Award from the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles. She has also volunteered time as a rape victims' advocate.

Judge You recalls what it was like being a young attorney appearing in court. Now, as a sitting judge, one of her goals is to treat attorneys and parties appearing before her with dignity and to learn as much as she can out of respect for the position she holds. She wants to set the example of professionalism. Those who know her believe she does.

Originally authored by Michael Lewton and printed in the July/August 2007 Multnomah Lawyer
Updated for the Internet in 2012