Daily Journal: Susan Yu – Childhood Battles Helped Shape Fiesty Defender

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[b]DAILY JOURNAL: Susan Yu – Childhood Battles Helped Shape Fiesty Defender [/b] Created: Saturday, 09 July 2005 Mesereau’s Co-Counsel Overcomes Racism July 08, 2005 DAILY JOURNAL NEWSWIRE ARTICLE [url]http://www.dailyjournal.com[/url] By Erin Park Daily Journal Staff Writer LOS ANGELES – In junior high school, Susan C. Yu told her classmates a lie that’s as heartbreaking as it is funny. She told them Bruce Lee was her brother. Attending racially charged inner-city schools throughout her childhood, it was the only way to survive the bullies. “Racism was in your face. It was blunt,” said Yu, 42, who entered the public eye when, with her law partner Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., she briefly represented the actor Robert Blake. The world got to know her in June when she and Mesereau successfully defended Michael Jackson against child-molestation charges. Yu is Korean-American, but her name is not a common Korean spelling. Reporters from all corners of Asia called to claim her. It’s hard to picture the slim, polished attorney in a schoolyard fistfight. She burst into tears when Jackson’s acquittals were announced. “I didn’t think I was going to do that at all,” she said. But those who know her say she is tough and determined, especially when she believes she is fighting a wrong. “I depended on her throughout the trial and could not have accomplished any of the things I accomplished without Susan,” Mesereau said. He said Yu’s strength of character made her “indispensable to the victory.” She also is “a brilliant lawyer” and “a fanatical preparer,” he said. Growing up in the 1970s, Yu said, her formative years were fraught with violence, hatred and what her mother called euphemistically “germs.” “I was getting beat up every day,” said Yu, who is uninterruptible when she’s on the topic of injustice. “It was like going to prison every day.” In 1969, Yu’s family moved from Seoul, South Korea, to San Francisco, escaping the confines of a military dictatorship only to find themselves facing a different challenge: discrimination. In Korea, her father was a prosecutor and served as an English translator during the Korean War. Her mother was a schoolteacher who dreamed of becoming a journalist. In the United States, they bought a grocery store across the street from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Though they soon were able to live in the city’s wealthier neighborhoods, their immigrant status kept them from enjoying the privileges of the social elite. “If our family went out to dinner, there were empty tables, but we wouldn’t be seated,” Yu said. “I remember asking my mom why they were staring at us, and she said, ‘Because your dress is so cute.'” Feeling helpless and isolated, Yu found refuge in reading. At 14, she had few friends, other than Jean Paul Sartre, Karl Marx and Vladmir Lenin, with whom she chose to spend her weekend nights at home. Yu said she was never a communist but was fascinated with “the human struggle” that many communist thinkers were grappling with. Not until she started college did she begin to understand the racism she encountered and how it shaped her. Yu described a year-and-a-half break she took from her undergraduate studies at University of California, Berkeley, to help her parents run, of all things, a Jewish deli they owned in the heart of San Francisco. Business was booming, and their employees decided they wanted to unionize against her parents’ will. The workers formed a picket line and chanted, “Chinks, go home! Koreans, go home! Japs, go home!” “They didn’t know whether we were Chinks or Koreans or Japs,” Yu said. “That’s when I felt racism.” Although Yu draws on those types of experiences as a defender of the underdog, she became a lawyer for an entirely different reason: the fall of the Soviet Union. “I was so devastated – very disappointed. I didn’t know what to do with my life,” said Yu, who majored in Soviet politics and aspired to become a professor and teach the subject. Abandoning that goal, Yu, 24, worked in her parent’s grocery store while she struggled to decide what to do. There, she met a judicial clerk from the appeals court across street. He convinced her to become a paralegal. Answering an ad in the newspaper from an unidentified law firm, she arrived at her interview and saw a sign on the door that read “Coudert Brothers LLP.” She had no idea that this was one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious law firms. “I thought it was Men’s Wearhouse,” she chuckled. Coudert Brothers hired her, and she promptly put up a poster of Karl Marx in her office. She began working on trials with Ron Katz, a litigation partner at the firm. Katz, now a partner in Manatt, Phelps & Phillips’ Palo Alto office, recalled working with Yu on a major, weeks-long trial in Cleveland that they won. “It was as if she was the senior partner on the case,” he said. “She was completely dedicated to that case.” With Katz as an inspiration, Yu decided to become a lawyer herself. She enrolled in Syracuse University School of Law, graduating in 1996. The birth of her 9-year-old son, Michael, delayed the start of her legal career until 1998. In Yu’s early days as an attorney, she defended cases on behalf of major corporations, including Fortune 500 companies as an associate at Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff in Century City. She successfully defended Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. in criminal regulatory compliance matters, in some cases convincing the district attorneys to dismiss the charges entirely. She met Mesereau in 2000, when he took office space in Rutter Hobbs’ building. The liked working together and became friends. Two years later, Mesereau left the building, and within a year, Yu had followed him. Paralegals in their current firm, Collins, Mesereau, Reddock & Yu, joke that the high-octane duo are twins, though there’s a foot in height and a decade in age between them. (Yu is 5 feet 6 inches tall and willowy; Mesereau, 55, is 6 feet 3 inches and built like a boxer.) “I think I’m a white man, and Tom probably thinks he’s a Korean woman,” Yu joked. “We’re mirror images.” Yu lives in Encino with her husband and first love, Joon Song, a real estate developer and their son. But, despite acceptance in modern Los Angeles society and her newfound fame, she has not strayed far from her Korean heritage. Explaining where she lives, she quickly reveals her center of gravity. “It’s very close to Century City. It’s close to L.A.,” she said. Then, with precision, she said, “It’s 14 miles to Koreatown.” Source: [url]http://mjjsource.com/main/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=638&Itemid=32[/url]

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