Originally published in the January 2003 issue.
Author: Charles E. Lundberg
It is altogether fitting and proper that Regina Chu's career path brings her back to the Hennepin County District Court, for it was here that she began her legal career, working full-time during law school, first as a law clerk for the legendary Judge Donald Barbeau, and then as special-term law clerk for all 19 judges on the district court bench.
Clerking for Judge Barbeau was itself something of a baptism of fire. The late judge was widely known as a colorful (albeit sometimes off-color) character, unconstrained by modern concepts of political correctness in his speech and manner. (This was the 1970s, after all, the era of "lady lawyers" and "lawyerettes." A female law clerk was to a large extent still a curiosity-not to mention a "Chinese" woman. There are several infamous stories about Judge Barbeau's interactions with his "Chinese" law clerk; given Judge Barbeau's tendency toward language that would now be deemed profane or scandalous, however, none of them can be reprinted here.)
One of the judges Regina clerked for on special term, Judge-later Chief Justice-Douglas K. Amdahl, remembers the role of the Hennepin County special-term clerk in the late 1970s as "the most difficult law clerk position in the state of Minnesota. In those days, we all rotated a month at a time as judge of special term. The special term judge had the most difficult and exhausting assignment in the court system." The special-term law clerk thus had the unique opportunity to work closely with and learn from each of the 19 judges on the bench. In other words, Regina had the singular good fortune to learn the law from a series of stellar mentors. In addition to Judges Barbeau and Amdahl, this distinguished group of jurists included such legal scholars as Rolf Fosseen, Bruce Stone, Crane Winton, Susanne Sedgwick, and others. (While some readers may not recognize these names, older members of the bar will immediately realize what a tremendous learning experience this must have been for a young student of the law.)
Judge Amdahl had some distinct recollections about how Regina came to this position, and how well she did there: "When Regina applied for the special-term clerk position, the judges on our court already knew of her abilities, and unanimously appointed her to the position. I was so impressed by her work for me when I sat on special term, that in 1980, when I was appointed an associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court and had to choose a clerk to work with me, I immediately called Regina and asked her to become my first law clerk on the Supreme Court. She accepted and I had the privilege of working with her for the full year of a Supreme Court clerk's appointment."
Chief Justice Amdahl and Regina have maintained a warm and close relationship ever since. At the July swearing-in ceremony, Justice Amdahl administered the oath and enthusiastically introduced Judge Chu to her new colleagues and the legal community with heartfelt pride in what his former law clerk had achieved.
After completing her clerkship with Justice Amdahl in 1981, Regina took a position with the Minnesota Attorney General's office as a special assistant attorney general. For several years she litigated in the Commerce Division, handling insurance and real estate agents and securities brokers disciplinary proceedings and representing state agencies in human rights and unemployment compensation cases.
Regina then joined the Minneapolis trial law firm now known as Bassford, Lockhart, Truesdell & Briggs, P.A., where she soon became a partner and had a stellar practice trying complex civil cases, including representing attorneys in legal malpractice lawsuits. She was by all accounts a fearless trial lawyer. She worked hard, producing prodigious amounts of work. She had the reputation of being a very adept attorney and an excellent writer.
At that time the Bassford firm included an extraordinary group of women trial lawyers, and it proved to be something of a training ground for future women judges. Regina's colleagues at Bassford included Mary E. Steenson DuFresne, who was recently reelected to a second six-year term on the Hennepin County bench, and newly elected Dakota County District Judge Carol Hooton. Judge Steenson DuFresne is excited that both Regina and Carol are joining her on the bench, and is especially pleased to have Regina as a colleague in Hennepin County: "Regina Chu brings intelligence, experience, and energy to the bench. I expect her to be a superlative judge."
Regina left Bassford to work on two plaintiffs' class action cases. The cases ultimately resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements on behalf of the class members. At the time of her appointment, she had developed a successful solo practice focusing on the defense of employment, commercial, product liability, and personal injury cases.
In addition to practicing trial law, Regina has been active in the academic field, teaching legal writing and civil practice skills courses at her alma mater, William Mitchell College of Law. She has since remained active on the lecture circuit as a frequent CLE speaker, while volunteering tirelessly for various bar groups and civic organizations, most recently serving as the immediate past president of the Douglas K. Amdahl Inn of Court and vice chair of the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board.
Regina's former law partners are proud of her appointment to the district court bench. Greer Lockhart, Bassford's senior partner, observed: "I believe Regina will be an outstanding judge. She had the opportunity to clerk for and observe at close hand a number of judges including the Hon. Douglas Amdahl, one of the finest judges in the history of the Hennepin County bench. She then developed and refined her skills as a civil trial lawyer with our office and later as a solo practitioner. Regina is very intelligent, and with her background and experience she is prepared to become one of the bright lights on the bench."
Regina's colleagues on the district court bench are also enthusiastic about her. Judge Cara Lee Neville said: "Regina will be a welcome addition to our bench. She is bright, thoughtful, and experienced and has a good temperament, as well as a sense of humor. She will be an excellent colleague and I look forward to working with her."
When Gov. Jesse Ventura announced Judge Chu's appointment in June, he noted, "I was immediately impressed with Regina the first time I met her. She's smart, has a great law background, and has been active in a variety of legal organizations."
Regina is a first-generation Chinese- American. Her parents emigrated from mainland China in the late 1940s to escape communist rule. Growing up in a struggling Catholic family with four siblings, Regina learned from an early age the importance of working hard, and put herself through both undergraduate and law school, working full-time.
The appointment of the first Asian woman judge in Minnesota was the cause of great celebration in the local Asian community. Ruby Dasgupta, president of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Asian Pacific Bar Association said, "It is a proud day for Asian lawyers in Minnesota, the Asian legal community, and the entire Asian-Pacific community." Dr. Bruce Corrie of the Asian Pacific Policy Roundtable noted that "the community is looking up to her both as a role model and as someone who will help the legal system in Minnesota be more responsive to the needs of new immigrants." Her colleague, Hennepin District Court Judge Tony Leung, the first Asian judge in Minnesota, acclaimed her accomplishments as a litigator, her legal contributions, and her intellect and integrity of the highest order.
Like all new judges, Regina began her judicial duties with a criminal assignment after six weeks of intensive training, including shadowing other judges, meeting with prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation personnel, and community groups, and learning more effective listening and communication skills. She was very impressed with Chief Judge Kevin Burke's unique and innovative approach to new judge training, and is grateful for the reception she has received from new colleagues: "I am struck by the collegiality of this bench, and how warmly new judges are welcomed. I am honored to have this opportunity to serve on a trial court which I believe to be the best in the state."
Back to Top