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Life changing event led Deputy Rochester City Attorney to a career in law

Deputy Rochester City Attorney Tran Nguyen always thought she'd return to her mountain roots after moving to Minnesota for law school. But after a nearly decade in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Nguyen said she's fallen in love with the people and chosen family she's built in Minnesota.

Asked and Answered - Tran Nguyen
Deputy City Attorney Tran Nguyen Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Deputy Rochester City Attorney Tran Nguyen always thought she'd return to her mountain roots after moving to Minnesota for law school. But after a nearly decade in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Nguyen said she's fallen in love with the people and chosen family she's built in Minnesota.

Born in California's Bay Area, Nguyen lived in Utah before heading North. She started her law career in March 2016 as a public defender before joining the Rochester City Attorney’s Office in September 2018. Nguyen recently reflected on what drew her law, what spurred the work behind a recent award and the secret to the best egg roll.

What made you want to make the change from public defense to city prosecution?

There were a lot of different factors that came into it. I think at the end of the day, defense work and prosecution work, should in my brain have the same goal of justice and being fair and making the community whole and a safer place. The reason why I switched over, it was a personality fit. I have really enjoyed being a prosecutor. I think that a lot of times, my experience as a defense attorney, really helps give me that lens to better understand defendants that come before the court. Better understand the victim dynamics, and helps me to be what I believe is the more fair prosecutor.

How did you decide to go into law?

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I grew up in a very Asian household. My parents came over here from Vietnam -- always wanted the kids to be doctors and things like that. So I actually always started out thinking I was going to be a dentist. And with one semester left before I went into dental school, I had my son and then six months after I had my son, I was diagnosed with cancer. And when I went through my cancer treatments, part of it was I had surgery on my legs and I had a lot of time relearning how to walk and things like that and it was during my recovery time and during my time on chemo that I really reflected on what I really wanted to do.

I've done stuff like debate and mock trial, and it didn't dawn on me until I was reflecting on my life that I realized I never thought of law as a career because to me, it was always just a fun stuff that I got to do.

And it was that moment that I realized that ‘well gee, if I find all these things fun and interesting, and this is what I love to do.’ I'd never even made that connection into law and when the light bulb hit, it's been an easy, easy decision, also one of the best decisions I ever made for my career.

You got an award this year and it had to do with your work on the Just Deeds Project. Why was that important work for you to do?

I think what happened was back when Jason Loos was still the City Attorney, he caught wind of the Just Deeds Program and had an initial meeting with all the key players, all the stakeholders, and I was pulled in.

At first I really didn't understand it. But the more that I read into the Just Deeds Coalition and met the volunteers, it's such great work.

What happens with Just Deeds -- we are looking for restrictive covenants and homeowners have the opportunity to denounce that language within their deed. You can denounce it and it is an additional document within the deed itself. It doesn't erase that language from the deed. That deed is still there.

I think part of the important thing about what Just Deeds does is it brings to light that there was so much systemic racism that shaped how our community was built and how it continues to operate today.

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Having an educational piece, I think that's what's really important about Just Deeds, is from my time as a public defender, and even now, prosecuting, you see a lot of the historically disadvantaged communities that are present within our legal system.

What has our society done to create these barriers to work, transportation, housing? I think that's why Just Deeds is so near and dear to my heart, because it's all this trickle down effect.

You wouldn't think that a restrictive covenant in a deed can affect you generationally, but it has. It's affected who gets to go to school. It’s affected where the best neighborhoods are. It affects home value.

It's the fact that Just Deeds is reaches more than the restrictive covenants within the deeds itself.

Are there any hobbies or unique talents that people are surprised to find out about you when you share it?

Surprised? No, I am the most unsurprising, boring, person ever. What I will say is when I first started college, I burned water and now I love baking and cooking.

How did you burn water?

I forgot that I was boiling water in the pot and walked away.

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What's your favorite thing to bake or cook now?

I would have to say egg rolls. We'll do egg roll parties. So I'll have a bunch of friends come over. It’s kind of like when you think of tamale parties. That's kind of how we do our egg rolls and wontons and our potsticker days. It's a really fun way to connect with friends and family. I'm very food driven and that's how I show appreciation and love -- it's through food.

In your experience, what's the key ingredient to a good egg roll or a wonton or a dumpling?

You got to use the right, thin wrapper so it's crispy once it hits the fryer.

Otherwise they’re secret ingredients.

I could have been cheesy and said it's the love that goes into them because frankly I stand there for hours rolling egg rolls.

Asked and Answered - Tran Nguyen
Deputy City Attorney Tran Nguyen Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Emily Cutts is the Post Bulletin's public safety reporter. She joined the Post Bulletin in July 2018 after stints in Vermont and Western Massachusetts.
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