DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF OFFICE OF THE
KING COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY
Deborah D. Fleck
The expression of gratitude is classic Mary Yu, a lawyer who combines grace and humility with a keen intellect, daunting work ethic and devotion to her principles and to her clients.
Ms. Yu is a first generation American. Both of her parents came to the United States initially as undocumented immigrants, her mother from Mexico and her father from China. She describes herself as having "very humble beginnings," growing up in Chicago's inner city. However, her parents were passionately dedicated to educating her and her brother, saving five dollars per week from the births of their children in order to provide them with a Catholic education. She graduated from St. Mary's High School in 1975, from Dominican University (formerly Rosary College) in 1979, where she was a theology major, and in 1989 she received her master's degree in theology from Mundelein of Loyola University.
Following her graduation, Ms. Yu worked for the Archdiocese in Chicago at the Peace and Justice Office, which she describes as the social and policy arm of the church. She began as a secretary and within a year was a staff member, working with Chicago's impoverished citizens. In 1985, she was appointed director of the Peace and Justice Office, which was then looking at the systemic causes of poverty. Ms. Yu was the first female director appointed by Cardinal Bernardin. She remained in that position until 1989, when she came to the Northwest to work at the Washington State Catholic Bishops' Conference.
Although she "never expected to be admitted," she was accepted at Notre Dame, a law school she viewed as allowing her to study the law in the context of her own values - personal, social and religious. As it turned out, it was her work as an assistant rector in a women undergraduate dormitory that was her most fulfilling experience at Notre Dame. The benefit to her was in recognizing "how much I could learn from other people, no matter how young or how different. It was a very significant life experience. These young women were generous enough to let me into their lives -it was fabulous."
Working as a rector provided an "appropriate context for the study of law which kept me grounded in reality. There is nothing so sacred as having somebody trust you with their personal journey. I was profoundly touched by each of them." And they were clearly touched by Mary Yu; she received the Distinguished Graduate Student of the Year award in 1993, nominated by these young women. They still write, call, and invite her to their weddings and she proudly hangs the award in her office. Ms. Yu also received the Outstanding Woman Law Graduate Award of Notre Dame Law School, awarded by the National Association of Women Lawyers, and the America Jurisprudence Award in Trial Advocacy from Notre Dame, both in 1993. While in law school, Ms. Yu was selected as a White Scholar in Notre Dame's Thomas J. White Center on Law and Government, where she contributed to its periodical, the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy as a staff member and copy editor.
Mary Yu returned to the Northwest in the summers during law school, where she worked as an extern and then an intern in the King County Prosecutor's Office. She loved her work in Seattle District Court and in the appellate unit. Following her graduation in 1993, she spent a few months in the Criminal Division of Mr. Maleng's office, assigned to the Renton District Court before being invited to join the Civil Division to practice in the area of contracts and construction law. After four years, she spent approximately one year in the practice of employment law before being named as the Deputy Chief of Staff in February of 1999. She is the only woman and only person of color in the senior management team of the office, as well as the first person to serve in this newly-created position. Ms. Yu values the opportunity to effect change, but she also loves practicing law, for which she has far less time. She has the chance, however, to work on larger policy issues in the office, as well as issues reaching beyond that office, such as juvenile justice and domestic violence.
As a special and personal contribution to Washington's Minority and Justice Commission, Ms. Yu, Ms. Sheryl Willert, managing partner at Williams, Kastner and Gibbs, and Ms. Karen Pool-Norby of Mr. Maleng's office, gave outstanding educational presentations at judicial conferences available to all judges and commissioners at the trial court level in Washington in 1998 and 1999. "How to Be a Good Employer: Tackling the Tough Issues" received uniformly high marks from those who attended. Mary Yu recognizes the enrichment that diversity brings to an organization and is committed to the goal of a workforce in our courts which reflects the communities we serve. As she gently reminded the judges and administrators, providing fair opportunity for employment is simply "the right thing to do." Ms. Yu continues to serve the Commission as a technical support member and a valuable member of the Workforce Diversity Sub-committee. She has also contributed her time to various organizations in the Asian community.
Although she doesn't know for certain, Mary Yu believes that she has been a beneficiary of affirmative action programs, mostly likely at the college level. When she looks back at her economically disadvantaged background together with her gender and racial and ethnic makeup, she believes she was extended the opportunity to pursue the education and training necessary to truly make a difference. In her career in the law, she has had the privilege of working with elected officials in Washington State for whom she has much admiration, from Mr. Maleng to King County Executive Ron Sims and King County Presiding Judge Bobbe Bridge (now Justice Bridge). The admiration is mutual. Mr. Maleng states of Mary Yu: "Mary is one of the most talented individuals I have met in my years of public service. She is more than just a superb lawyer; she has also become a leader in public policy in this area. She has an optimistic spirit and a capacity to work hard. People who have met her come away from that association with a feeling that their lives have really been blessed. Her tremendous amount of energy revitalizes my sense of excitement and that of others in our office about the things we are doing."
Given her relative youth, unbounded energy and dedication, as well as her fine legal mind, outside observers such as we can simply hold onto our hats and watch Ms. Yu continue to rise and to make a difference. She has a deep love of the law and of justice, and a hopeful attitude about the future. Mary Yu recognizes the doors that have been opened for her and she is committed to ensuring justice and opportunity for others. We are fortunate to have Mary Yu as a member of Washington's Minority and Justice Commission.
Deborah D. Fleck is a judge of the King County Superior Court, and also serves as a member of the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission.