Member Spotlight with Hon. Randall T. Eng
Who was your first mentor in the law?
I was a high school student when I first met Hon. Charles W. Froessel, then a judge of the Court of Appeals, who was a customer of our family’s laundry and dry cleaning business, which was located near the Supreme Court in Queens.
He was a very kind and thoughtful man who had a wide variety of interests including the mentoring of youth. It was only natural that I came to speak with him about a career in the law, which I always found to be appealing.
Law was not a profession that young Asian-Americans gave much consideration to in the early 1960s. There were only a handful of Asian-American lawyers in the New York area and they were concentrated in Manhattan’s Chinatown where their work consisted mainly of immigration law and small real estate transactions.
Despite well-meaning guidance to take up studies such as engineering or medicine, I persisted in looking toward the law where I thought one could truly make a difference, particularly in that period of great social change.
Upon graduation from law school, I had difficulty in finding a position in the private sector. Callbacks after interviews did not happen, and despair began to set in. Judge Froessel suggested that I try the public, sector where there was more sensitivity to diversity issues.
Having an interest in criminal justice, I was fortunate to be appointed to the Queens County District Attorney’s office in 1973 where I became the first Asian-American assistant district attorney in the history of New York State. I successively became the first Asian-American judge in this state, one of the first of two to be elected to the Supreme Court, the first administrative judge, and the first to be designated as presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department. Now, in the next phase of my legal career, I have realized my ambition to be engaged in the private sector.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
All my life, I have had a fascination with railroading and aviation, and have collected many books and photographs on both subjects. Although I never learned how to operate a train, I did become a licensed private pilot. Most of my flying has been done at the local airport in Hilton Head, SC, where we have a condo. There is nothing
more stress relieving than flying your own airplane over beautiful shorelines and beach communities. Needless to say, the airspace is much more open there, and the costs far lower than in the New York metropolitan area.
What do you find most rewarding about being an attorney?
Mentoring new attorneys and law students has always been personally rewarding for me, and I have had the privilege of working with many men and women of color, particularly Asian-Americans seeking guidance in advancing along both judicial and non-judicial career paths. It has been a great pleasure to have observed several of these persons advance into new areas of the profession and achieve goals and aspirations which they have set for themselves.
What was your favorite television show during your formative years?
While a high school student, one of my favorite programs was Perry Mason. As I look back on the over 200 episodes of the show, I can only marvel at how Mason could master the representation of clients in such varied areas of the law as mergers and acquisitions, hostile takeovers, land use, mining rights, defamation, copyright
infringement, matrimonial, personal injury, and admiralty, as well as criminal defense. He did so without associates or a file in sight, and only fleeting references to “the library.”
Closing argument: Why should lawyers join NYSBA?
New York State Bar Association membership includes a broad cross section of the legal community from both the private and public sectors, including the judiciary.
In my experience in the administration of the courts, I have found that NYSBA is a voice that is heard by legislators and decision makers in the judiciary. Members have the opportunity to shape the message that is articulated by the legal community. Membership also offers the privilege of working with outstanding leaders of the legal profession. During my term as presiding justice of the Second Department, I worked with a number of distinguished NYSBA presidents. All of the above are great
reasons to become active members.