Updated: Nov 8
Connie Wu: Empowered to Serve
Connie Wu recognized the power of the law at a young age and continues to be inspired to use the law to serve her local and national community as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of California.
In middle school, Ms. Wu was a victim of severe hazing that left her with long term medical needs. Although she prevailed in small claims court to recoup her medical costs, the Superior Court ultimately dismissed her claim on appeal. This experience and subsequent legal process left her feeling traumatized and powerless. However, they inspired her to seek opportunities to understand the law and how it could be used as a tool of empowerment.
Ms. Wu first witnessed the power of the law as a high school intern for the Sex Crimes Division of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. Her experience had a profound impact on her as she assisted Deputy District Attorneys prepare for trial, which required working closely with rape victims, many of whom were quite young and afraid to testify against their attackers. In particular, one of the victims she worked with was an undocumented Chinese woman who did not speak very much English. Although Ms. Wu only spoke very rudimentary Chinese, she was the only person on the prosecution team that spoke any Chinese at all. Over time, Ms. Wu helped persuade the victim regarding the importance of her testimony both for the legal prosecution and for herself as a survivor. This experience motivated Ms. Wu to become a prosecutor and eventually to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where she now serves as the Project Safe Neighborhoods Coordinator for the Southern District of California. In this role, Ms. Wu enjoys the opportunity to serve her district in a palpable and meaningful way to address the recent increase in gang-related violent crime in the San Diego and Imperial Counties.
Ms. Wu’s drive to understand how the law had failed her in middle school also led her to become co-captain of her high school mock trial team and pursue judicial internships with California Superior Court Judge Jaime Corral and former Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski. She majored in Political Science at Brown University and received her Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School. In law school, Ms. Wu interned for the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts. This internship inspired Ms. Wu’s interest in national security and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
After law school, Ms. Wu clerked for U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns in the District of Massachusetts. Judge Stearns enjoyed being in trial and also sat by designation for the Third Circuit and the Southern District of New York during Ms. Wu’s term. As a law clerk, Ms. Wu learned to look at each case from all angles and motives, necessitating a practice of always taking a close look at the record.
Prior to joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Ms. Wu worked at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in the firm’s New York office as an Associate in the Government Enforcement and White Collar Crime Group. Her time at Skadden included working on the firm’s independent review of Rutgers University’s 2013 basketball scandal that garnered national attention when videos surfaced of the coach abusing his players.
In 2014, Ms. Wu joined the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego. Since joining the office, Ms. Wu has had the opportunity to try twelve cases and serve in various capacities, including as Counsel to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in Washington, D.C. In this capacity, Ms. Wu oversaw a large criminal portfolio. For example, Ms. Wu’s work involved Pardons and Clemency; Community Oriented Policing Services; the Bureau of Prisons; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and vetting potential judicial nominees. Further, she advised the Deputy Attorney General on legislative proposals within her portfolio, including the First Step Act—a bipartisan criminal justice bill.
Currently, Ms. Wu serves as the Project Safe Neighborhoods Coordinator for the Southern District of California. In this capacity, Ms. Wu’s practice is focused on firearm and gang-related prosecution. Ms. Wu is responsible for taking a targeted and prioritized approach to addressing violent crime in the San Diego and Imperial County communities. This strategic approach requires close coordination with state and federal law enforcement and the San Diego and Imperial County District Attorney’s Offices.
Outside of the Office
Beyond participating in the FBA, San Diego Chapter, Ms. Wu serves as a Board Member of the San Diego Chapter of the National Asian Pacific Islander Prosecutors Association. Ms. Wu also serves as the Co-Chair of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s Judiciary and Executive Nominations and Appointments Committee. As a member of this committee, Ms. Wu uses her experience as Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General to guide individuals interested in joining the bench, including how to navigate the process and effectively utilize the various resources available to candidates. Ms. Wu is married, and they have a 21-month-old daughter. Back when she had free time, Ms. Wu practiced aerial silks and choreographed wedding dances for her friends. Most notably, one of her dances went viral and was lauded on Huffington Post.
Advice for New Attorneys
Ms. Wu’s professional journey has come full circle as the law has now come to represent a tool of empowerment after it represented a tool of disempowerment in middle school. She has used it to seek out several opportunities to serve in capacities where her work would positively and profoundly impact the local and national community. She encourages new attorneys, especially attorneys who join the U.S. Attorney’s Office, to proactively seek out opportunities to get as much exposure to other sections in the office. As attorneys progress in their careers, getting exposure to a variety of work becomes more difficult as people tend to specialize. At the same time, Ms. Wu recommends that new attorneys make time for hobbies and civic engagement while they still can. With respect to practicing in her office, she encourages new Assistant U.S. Attorneys to foster relationships with members of the defense bar by connecting in fitness or affinity group settings in which there is no “talking shop” allowed. Some of Ms. Wu’s favorite pre-pandemic memories include drawing inspiration from Federal Defenders that took cardio kickboxing classes with her at 24-Hour Fitness.
For those interested in joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she encourages attorneys to find ways to demonstrate a sincere interest in public service through activities such as significant pro bono litigation or coaching mock trial/moot court. She also recommends getting to know attorneys currently serving in the office to better understand what the job entails on a day-to-day basis and when there might be job openings. Finally, she recommends that interested attorneys carefully consider the implications of working in a border district and engage in long-term financial planning to prepare for the transition to a government salary.
* Courtney Strange is a member of the San Diego Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and its Public Relations Committee. She is an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of California and externed for the Hon. Jill L. Burkhardt in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.