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Pathways to the Bench Video Series

In the video series Pathways to the Bench, individual judges talk about the personal, character-building challenges they have faced that prepared them to serve on the bench.

U.S. District Judge Diane J. Humetewa

As the first female Native American federal judge, Diane J. Humetewa is frequently asked about growing up in two worlds: participating in school and social activities in Phoenix while adhering to the Hopi way of life as an enrolled member of the tribe. “It’s one world in my view,” said Humetewa, who serves as a U.S. district judge in the District of Arizona. “I would do all the things that high school kids would do … but perhaps on the weekend we’d have to go to the reservation.” 

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank

Growing up in a small town in Minnesota, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank overcame the modest expectations of his high school teacher to attend college and then law school. He later also overcame alcoholism, a condition that nearly destroyed his marriage, on his way to becoming a state judge and then a federal judge in the District of Minnesota for two decades. Throughout his legal career, Frank has been attuned to the needs of people with disabilities and committed to ensuring everyone has equal access to justice. 

U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sánchez

For U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sánchez, Philadelphia, an important lesson was about how to earn the respect of others:  “I think that the one thing I had learned as a young boy was that — no matter your background — people who see that you’re a hard worker, that you earn your keep, will respect you.”

U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield

Inspired by the dreams of her mother, U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield, New York City, worked hard to meet the highest standards of excellence.  Due to her mother’s illness, she had to adapt to long stays with other families as a child, and shouldered adult responsibilities as a teen. Judge Schofield’s message to young people: “You have to have faith in yourself that you can make a life that you want.”

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, District of Columbia, hasn’t let circumstances or other people define him.  A talented football player, whose college injury took him out of the game, he discovered his intellectual abilities and rigorously applied them to getting a law degree. As an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C. his reputation for diligence and success in the courtroom brought him to the attention of the White House. He was appointed to judgeships by three Presidents and named to high-profile public service assignments by two Chief Justices of the United States. His advice for facing adversity:  Don’t let outside forces define you or determine your future.

U.S. Circuit Judge Jacqueline Nguyen

Long before she was the first Asian American woman appointed to serve on the federal bench in Los Angeles, U.S. Ninth Circuit Judge Jacqueline Nguyen understood hard work. As a child, when her family had to flee their idyllic life in Vietnam, she became an integral part of building her family’s future in California. She had to be willing to step out of her comfort zone in order to serve. What has life taught her? "Have the courage and work ethic to accept opportunities that will shape your life."

U.S. District Judge Julie A. Robinson

U.S. District Judge Julie A. Robinson’s journey to the federal bench in Topeka, KS, started when, at the age of five, she decided to become a lawyer. She credits her success to her father’s faith in her and the fact that her mentors set high standards and demanded the best from her. Judge Robinson tells young people: “You never can dream big enough, sometimes. You can never really know all that is in store for you."

U.S. Circuit Judge Ronald M. Gould

U.S. Ninth Circuit Judge Ronald M. Gould, of Seattle, does not let multiple sclerosis dampen his passion for justice. He focuses on strengths that transcend his wheelchair confinement and he gives others the opportunity to move beyond their limits. As Judge Gould puts it: "If somebody is enthusiastic about what they want to accomplish -- if they have a passion for it -- they have a chance of achieving it."

U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson

U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson, of Montgomery, Ala., pushed past the paralysis of childhood polio to live an active life, excel in academics and become – at age 33 – one of the youngest people appointed to the federal bench. He says he has learned, "Always be prepared for the unexpected, because you'll never know when it will hit you."

U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin

U.S. Second Circuit Judge Denny Chin, of New York City, is a naturalized citizen. From his grandfather, a waiter, and his father, a cook in Hell’s Kitchen, Chin adopted a work ethic that elevated him to the federal bench. As a federal judge, Chin now presides over the kind of naturalization ceremonies that made three generations of his family U.S. citizens.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez

U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez didn't go right to college. She worked for a year – and kept working – to put herself through college and law school. She doesn't consider her journey unusual because today's students face many of the same challenges. Her advice? Keep going even when you don't know if you can make it.

U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal

U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal was born in a World War II refugee camp after his mother and sister escaped eastern Poland. His mother immigrated with her two children to the United States. Today, when Judge Singal presides over naturalization ceremonies, he shares his story and invites new citizens to take advantage of their new opportunities.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffery P. Hopkins

At an early age, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffery P. Hopkins took risks and got out of his comfort zone to ask for the help of supportive adults. He reminds young people that many adults want to be part of their success story, too. The judge encourages anyone with goals to show an interest, work hard, and seek the guidance of others.

U.S. Circuit Judge Roger L. Gregory

Many federal judges have been touched by the Civil Rights Movement in their youth. Meet U.S. Fourth Circuit Judge Roger L. Gregory, who says that the struggle taught him that every challenge in his young life lifted him up and still helps him lift others along the way.

U.S. Circuit Judge Ann C. Williams

U.S. Seventh Circuit Judge Ann C. Williams, of Chicago, says that each generation stands on the shoulders of people who went before them. She credits her parents' example for her preparation to serve on the federal bench, and looks to trailblazers like the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall for inspiration.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall

U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall kept moving forward through loss and challenges on her journey to the federal bench. Kendall talks about the importance of believing in herself, digging deep, and accepting the support of family and friends along the way to becoming a federal judge in the Northern District of Illinois.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys

U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys rose from the cotton fields of Mississippi to the federal bench by educating himself, persevering and working hard. Keys shares his perspectives on his life – from his time in the Marines and law school, to eventually becoming a federal magistrate judge.