Nina Wang has served as a magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado since February 2015.
Nina Wang was first exposed to the judicial system at a very young age. Her family emigrated from Taiwan to the United States on a diplomatic visa, and her father served as consul for the government of Taiwan in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1979, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan and closed the consulate office. Her father then applied to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for an adjustment of immigration status to permanent resident. Following several delays and miscommunications, the INS did not adjudicate the application until two years after it was first submitted. During this time, the relevant law had changed, imposing stricter eligibility requirements. The issue of whether the new requirements should apply to the application was litigated up to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. From that experience, Wang gained an understanding of how the courts affect the lives of the individuals who appear before them.
Her interest in the law was further cemented during a fourth-grade biography project. As the selection of books went in alphabetical order, one of the few options remaining when her teacher got to “Wang” was a biography of Thurgood Marshall. “I was enthralled by his story,” she says.
Wang grew up in Kansas and attended Washington University in St. Louis and Harvard Law School. After clerking for a federal district court judge in Maryland, she applied to openings at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in locations around the country and accepted a position in Colorado. She served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for four years and then went on to become a partner in the intellectual property group at Faegre Baker Daniels. Wang always knew she wanted to be a judge, so when the magistrate position became available following the retirement of Judge Boland, she had to apply. “I was happy at Faegre, but it had been seven years since the last magistrate opening became available. I thought it was a good time to apply.” Having spent her career as a federal practitioner, she felt she had the necessary experience and was ready for the bench.
Following overlapping interviews with the magistrate selection committee and the district judges, the court unanimously selected Wang for the position. Wang is on the draw for civil cases and also handles criminal misdemeanors up to the arraignment for felonies. Comparing her new role as a judge to her previous life as a litigator, she comments that in litigation, there is more of an ebb and flow. “At the court there’s just flow, not much ebb,” she explains. During her first trial as a magistrate judge, she was surprised how hard it was from the judge’s perspective. “I was very engaged. I wanted to be sure I ruled on objections correctly.” In preparation, Wang searched the applicable case law for “error” to see if the Tenth Circuit or state appellate courts had weighed in on jury instructions or other issues that come up at a trial. She also sees a lot of state law claims in diversity cases, which she was never exposed to when she practiced. “That’s part of the reason I love my job — I’m never bored!” When issuing orders or recommendations, Magistrate Judge Wang strives for a turn-around time that allows for a well-reasoned decision without delaying matters.
Off the bench, Wang remains involved in the legal community. “It’s an honor and an obligation to help those who come after you,” she emphasizes. She believes that diversity throughout the legal system is important to ensure access to justice. “When we include the multitude of voices from various communities and interests, even if they are not our own, we ensure the development of the law.” Additionally, she sits on a board for pro bono patent access, which works to guarantee that governmental systems are accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial means. Wang also volunteers for the Our Courts initiative, which educates the public about how the courts operate.
Magistrate Judge Nina Wang is, above all, very thankful for the opportunity to serve on the bench. “I have the best job that a lawyer can have. Even on bad days, I feel really grateful and lucky.” D
Emma Garrison is staff counsel at Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP, a former chair of the CBA YLD and the current chair of the Docket Committee. She can be reached at email@example.com.