On July 12, 2022, President Joe Biden nominated Cindy K. Chung to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to the seat being vacated by Judge D. Brooks Smith. A prosecutor with significant experience in prosecuting civil rights violations such as hate crimes, Ms. Chung will be the first Asian American judge to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Cindy K. Chung was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1975. Her parents, who had immigrated to the United States from South Korea, initially immigrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before moving to Nebraska. After earning her B.A. from Yale University in 1997, Ms. Chung worked in China for two years as a Yale-in-China Fellow. She went on to attend Columbia Law School, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, a Columbia Public Interest Fellow, and served on the editorial board of Columbia Journal of Gender & Law. During law school, she interned for Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was then serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. After graduating law school in 2002, Ms. Chung clerked for the Honorable Myron Thompson on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.
Following her clerkship, Ms. Chung worked at the New York County District Attorney’s Office from 2003 to 2009; there, she gained experience in the general trial bureau before moving to the official corruption section. In 2009, she was hired by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section, where she prosecuted civil rights offenses, such as hate crimes.
Since 2014, she has worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Initially serving as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, she prosecuted a wide range of criminal matters at the trial and appellate level and held roles including Civil Rights Coordinator and Domestic Violence Coordinator. In 2021, she was nominated and confirmed to lead her office as U.S. Attorney. For the last year, she has managed an office of over 100 employees conducting civil and criminal work across 25 counties.
Ms. Chung has been a prosecutor for her entire career. Primarily working for the federal government, she has had a notable focus on civil rights and fraud prosecutions. The following cases are illustrative of her legal experience.
Ms. Chung has prosecuted civil rights crimes, including hate crimes, throughout her career. She has worked to hold white supremacists and domestic terrorists accountable for violence. For example, while working for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, she prosecuted the first Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act case in the country. In United States v. Maybee, two men ran a car carrying five Latino men off the road while yelling racial slurs, causing the car to crash and ignite, and injuring the passengers. The jury agreed with Ms. Chung and the government, finding that the attack was racially motivated and that the men were guilty. In United States v. Barnwell Ms. Chung prosecuted four white supremacists who firebombed the home of a Hardy, Arkansas, interracial couple. The leader of the attack, the head of the “combat division” of a white supremacist group, threw multiple Molotov cocktails in the couple’s home during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Ultimately, all defendants pled guilty to the attack and were sentenced to time in prison.
Ms. Chung was one of the first attorneys involved in the case United States v. Bowers, which prosecuted the white supremacist who killed 11 congregants and wounded others worshipping at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The attack was the deadliest known antisemitic attack in United States history. Defendant Bowers was ultimately indicted on 44 counts including numerous hate crimes, and the case is ongoing. Additionally, she prosecuted Zachary Dinnell and Tyler Smith, two employees at a residential long-term care facility who viciously attacked residents with a range of severe physical, intellectual, and emotional disabilities. The residents were non-verbal and could not report their abuse, and in many cases could not defend themselves due to physical disabilities. Dinnell and Smith were indicted by a federal grand jury on federal hate crime charges, and the case is ongoing.
Ms. Chung has also prosecuted police misconduct crimes. For example, in United States v. Bowen, less than a week after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans police officers shot, killed, and seriously injured unarmed individuals crossing a bridge. The officers then conspired to cover up their crimes by fabricating evidence, including planting a gun and falsifying witness statements. After a trial, appeal, and numerous procedural challenges stretching over several years, the defendants pled guilty to some counts and were sentenced to incarceration.
In United States v. Matakovich, off-duty police officer Matakovich, who was working as a security guard at Heinz Field, was asked to remove a drunk 19-year-old from a high school football game. He proceeded to repeatedly punch, push, and strike the teenager without justification. Ms. Chung led the prosecution against the officer, who had a history of violent arrests and was found guilty of using excessive force after a trial. The Third Circuit affirmed the conviction.
Ms. Chung has significant experience prosecuting fraud cases. In United States v. Hoover and Arthurs, she prosecuted a Pennsylvania-licensed physician and his girlfriend for fraudulently prescribing opioids. The couple wrote illegitimate oxycodone prescriptions in exchange for cash and defrauded Medicare and Medicaid into paying for these prescriptions. Ms. Chung coordinated a multi-agency investigation that ultimately led to both defendants pleading guilty to crimes including conspiring to commit health care fraud.
Professional Activities and Accolades
While working in the federal government, Ms. Chung has received numerous awards for her service, including the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service and the Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award. Ms. Chung has served the legal community outside of her official role. She is the Vice-Chair of the U.S. Attorney General’s Advisory Committee and the Chair of the U.S. Department of Justice Juvenile Violence Working Group. Additionally, she is a member of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania and the Allegheny County Bar Association. Ms. Chung works to train and mentor the next generation of lawyers, volunteering with Allegheny County Mock Trial and teaching a class, Federal Hate Crimes, at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.