From first Asian American judge to legal icon: The Hon. Randall T. Eng Award program shines

May 28, 2024 Robert Abruzzese, Courthouse Editor
Randall T. Eng, the first Asian American to serve as presiding justice of the Appellate Division in New York, will be honored at the upcoming Second Annual Hon. Randall T. Eng Award Ceremony on May 29, 2024, recognizing his groundbreaking contributions to the judiciary. Eagle photo by Robert Abruzzese
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Presiding Justice Hector LaSalle of the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, announced the upcoming presentation of the Second Annual Hon. Randall T. Eng Award Program in celebration of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month on Wednesday, May 9. 

The award, named in honor of former Presiding Justice Randall T. Eng, recognizes the extraordinary work and achievements of individuals for their notable services in the AANHPI communities within the Second Judicial Department.

This year’s award recipients are New York State Sen. Kevin Thomas and Chanwoo Lee, Esq. The event, co-sponsored by the Asian American Bar Association of New York and several other organizations, will be live-streamed via the NYS Unified Court System website.

Immigrating to the United States at the age of 10, Sen. Thomas was driven by the freedom and opportunities he experienced to engage in public service. In 2018, he became the first Indian American elected to the New York State Senate, representing the 6th Senate District in Nassau County. As chairman of the Senate Consumer Protection Committee, Thomas works to strengthen consumer safeguards and advocates for community safety and gun violence prevention.

Born in Seoul, South Korea, and moving to the U.S. at age 11, Lee’s journey led her from Texas to New York. A graduate of SUNY Binghamton and Brooklyn Law School, Lee started her legal career with the Legal Aid Society in Queens County before becoming a solo practitioner. In 2019, she was appointed as a commissioner to the NYS Board of Parole and remains active in various legal and community organizations.

Justice Randall T. Eng, a trailblazer in the New York legal community, has a distinguished career marked by numerous firsts and significant contributions to the judiciary.

Born in Guangzhou, China, Eng was raised in New York City. He earned his undergraduate degree in political science from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1969 and his Juris Doctor from St. John’s University School of Law in 1972.

Eng began his legal journey as an assistant district attorney in Queens County, becoming the first Asian American in New York State to hold such a position. He served as deputy inspector general and later inspector general of the NYC Correction Department. In 1983, Eng was appointed to the Criminal Court of the City of New York by Mayor Ed Koch, making him the first Asian American judge in the state.

Elected to the New York State Supreme Court in 1990, Eng served until his appointment as administrative judge of the Criminal Term of Queens County Supreme Court in 2007. In 2012, Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed him as the presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, where he oversaw one of the busiest judicial departments in the state, handling more than 9,000 appeals annually.

After retiring from the bench in 2018, Eng joined Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, P.C. as Of Counsel. He continues to contribute to the legal community through his work in litigation, dispute resolution and appellate practice.

Eng’s contributions have been widely recognized. He received the Charles W. Froessel Award from the Queens County Bar Association, the Career Public Service Award from The Fund for Modern Courts and the Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

In addition to his legal career, Eng served in the New York Army National Guard from 1970 to 2004, retiring as a colonel in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

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