Lorna Gail Tiangco Schofield sits on one of the highest benches, as an article three US-district judge in southern district of New York.
Raised by a single mother in New Haven, Indiana, she traces her Philippine roots to Batangas, where her mother Priscilla is from.
But growing up in Indiana, she never thought she’d become the first Fil-Am federal judge in US history.
“I was a debater in high school, and I was also involved in theater so it was something that was always in the back of my mind. I was an English and German major of all things, then I went to grad school, in comparative literature, and it was only after my mother died that I realized I would need to support myself and it didn’t look like comparative literature would do that, so I decided I would look up law school again.”
While she’s now celebrated by her fellow Filipinas in the legal profession, she spent thirty years in private practice, which includes representing the Philippine government as it was restructuring its sovereign debt.
She believed her Philippine background and perfect timing paved the way for her to the bench.
“I don’t think I would be here if I weren’t Filipino. You have to be highly qualified to be a judge there’s are many highly qualified people in new york city and I was lucky enough to become a judge when both President Obama and senator Schumer were looking to appoint firsts to the bench, the Caribbean American person, the first Filipino person, the first outwardly gay man to be on the bench. Just a lot of first and I’m sure that made a big difference in my case.”
She has since overseen federal level criminal and civil cases, both big and small from wage theft, drugs and human trafficking cases, to high-level conspiracy allegations of international banks accused of fixing foreign exchange rates.
With a greater cultural awareness, she’s also trying to help pave the way for Fil-Am legal practitioners.
“I really didn’t have any connection to the Filipino community because of the happenstance of how and where I grew up and how my life evolved so it’s a way for me to connect to people who I wouldn’t have otherwise, so it’s been great.”
While she enjoys speaking and meeting with the community whom she says helped pave her way to the bench, she also pays it forward by taking on Filipino staffers, sending them off onto their own journeys.