On July 29, 2022, President Biden announced his intent to nominate Judge Rita F. Lin to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Judge Lin had served as a judge on the Superior Court of San Francisco, California since 2018. When confirmed on September 19, 2023, Judge Lin became the second Asian Pacific American woman—and first Taiwanese American woman—to serve on the District Court for the Northern District of California.
Judge Rita Lin was born in Oakland, California in 1978. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 2000 and Harvard Law School in 2003. During her Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Judge Lin also disclosed that she has a hearing disability resulting from a childhood illness.
After law school, Judge Lin served as a law clerk for Judge Sandra Lynch of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. In 2004, she moved back to California, working as a litigation associate and later a litigation partner in the San Francisco office of the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.
Her practice focused on complex civil litigation, representing individuals and corporations in a wide variety of matters, including patent litigation, copyrights, trade secret misappropriation, unfair competition, breach of contract, and real estate. Her patent litigation practice included both litigation in the federal courts and petitions before the Patent and Trademark Office. She also represented banks, financial institutions, fintech companies, and served as the Deputy Chair of the Firmwide Financial Services Litigation Group. Judge Lin managed teams of attorneys across multiple offices to defend against nationwide waves of related class actions and government enforcement actions. She also maintained an active pro bono practice across a range of areas, including marriage equality, disability rights, immigration and criminal law.
In one of her most notable pro bono cases, Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, Judge Lin was co-lead counsel representing a staff attorney at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in her challenge to the federal government’s refusal to provide equal health benefits to her same-sex spouse. The government’s refusal was based on the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”). The Ninth Circuit ordered that the plaintiff be reimbursed on an ongoing basis for her payments on her spouse’s individual insurance plan, making her the first federal employee to receive health benefits for her same-sex spouse. After the Supreme Court found that DOMA was unconstitutional, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the Golinksi appeal.
In 2014, Judge Lin transitioned to public service, joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California as a federal prosecutor. She investigated and prosecuted federal criminal cases in a broad variety of areas, including public corruption, organized crime, drug trafficking, money laundering, health care fraud, immigration fraud, illegal firearms, child pornography, counterfeit currency and violent crime. In 2015, she joined the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, where she conducted complex investigations of large-scale international drug trafficking organizations. She also developed the Northern District of California’s program for investigating doctors and other medical professionals who were illegally proscribing opioids.
In 2018, Judge Lin was appointed by California Governor Jerry Brown to serve as a judge in the San Francisco County Superior Court. From 2019 to 2020, she was assigned to the preliminary hearings department where she presided over hundreds of felony criminal cases. In 2021, she was assigned to preside over criminal trials, six of which a jury verdict was reached. During her time on the bench, due to a primary cases load of criminal matters, Judge Lin has not issued written opinions as rulings in these types of cases are typically made orally on the record. The following cases are representative of Judge Lin’s judicial tenure on the Superior Court:
In People v. Kolda, San Francisco Superior Court, No. 18015358 (2020-2021), the defendant was charged with possession of methamphetamine and heroin for sale, as well as an illegal firearm, based on the results of a search warrant. The search warrant was partially based on information provided by a confidential informant, which was sealed. The defense moved to unseal those portions of the search warrant and to discover the identity of the informant. After holding a hearing, Judge Lin partially unsealed the warrant to reveal only the general timing of the tip without compromising the informant’s safety. She denied the motion to discover the informant’s identity and kept the remaining portions of the warrant sealed. The officers in the case had conducted surveillance of the address where the drugs had been discovered six days before the warrant had been issued and they had seen the defendant meeting with a known methamphetamine dealer, with whom the defendant had been arrested eight months earlier. Judge Lin concluded that this additional surveillance, combined with the information from the confidential informant, provided sufficient probable cause for the search. After the hearings, Judge Lin was reassigned to a trial department and had no further involvement with the case. The defendant later entered into a pretrial plea agreement, in which she is in the process of completing.
In People v. Flores¸ San Francisco Superior Court, No. 19007541 (2021), the defendant was charged with illegally possessing a concealed firearm. Judge Lin presided over an evidentiary hearing on a motion to suppress the firearm, which the police discovered during a stop and frisk. Judge Lin granted the motion to suppress, finding that the police officer had no legitimate reason to conduct the pat-down search, such as fear of safety. The prosecution dismissed the case after the motion to suppress was granted.
In People v. Brown, San Francisco Superior Court, No. 18012089 (2019), the defendant and his date parked in a “no-parking” zone on a hill with a view of the city one evening. The police claimed they smelled marijuana from the defendant’s parked car and searched the car, finding a firearm in a backpack. While it is not illegal to smoke marijuana in a car parked in California, Judge Lin denied the defendant’s motion to suppress that fact because a jar of marijuana with a label stating that it contained 35 grams of marijuana, above the amount permitted by state law, was in plain view of the police officers. That supported the officers’ decision to search the car for additional marijuana, which led to the discovery of the firearm. The case was eventually dismissed after the defendant pled guilty in a separate matter.
In People v. Jacobo, San Francisco Superior Court, No. 13029231 (2022), Mr. Jacobo claimed that he acted in self-defense after being charged with first-degree murder. Judge Lin ruled on various evidentiary issues, including the admissibility of evidence concerning the victim’s alleged character for violence, evidence regarding Mr. Jacobo’s alleged character for violence, and evidence of a witness’s refusal to testify despite the threat of court-ordered sanctions. Ultimately, the jury convicted Mr. Jacobo of second-degree murder. The defendant is awaiting sentencing.
In People v. Higginbotham, San Francisco Superior Court, No. 16021040 (2022), Judge Lin presided over a series of hearings on motions to suppress search warrants in a murder case. The case involved whether California’s Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) required that location data from a GPS tracker place on a car remain sealed during the case and whether the police needed a separate court order to use that data in an unrelated investigation. Judge Lin held that the ECPA does not require such requirements on GPS data from vehicle trackers. The case is currently awaiting trial.
In People v. Timms, San Francisco Superior Court, No. 1808239 and 18010935 (2021), Mr. Timms was accused of attempted murder for shooting his girlfriend. Judge Lin granted a challenge made by the prosecution that the defendant had improperly excluded Asian American jurors on the basis of race and ordered that jury selection restart with a new panel. Judge Lin also ruled on various evidentiary issues concerning Mr. Timms’ girlfriend’s statements to the police. While Mr. Timms was acquitted for attempted murder, he was convicted of firearms assault with the intent inflicting great bodily injury in a domestic violence context, illegal gun possession, domestic violence, and witness intimidation. Judge Lin sentenced Mr. Timms to 23 years in state prison, based, in part, on his significant violent criminal history.
Professional Activities and Accolades
Judge Lin has served on the Superior Court’s Executive Committee, Bail Review & Pretrial Detention Committee, and Adult Probation Oversight Committee. In those capacities, she has sought to improve the administration of criminal justice in the courts. As a federal prosecutor, Judge Lin was active in training and teaching other prosecutors, including presenting at conferences and conducting litigation training programs. In 2021, Judge Lin taught Criminal Procedure at the University of California Hastings College of Law.
Judge Lin has also gained recognition for her litigation skills. She was chosen as one of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s “Best Lawyers Under 40” in 2017 as well as chosen by the Daily Journal’s “Top 100 Women Attorneys in California” in 2012. She also has been recognized for her significant pro bono work, earning her the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom’s Legal Service Award in 2012.