Interview with Sunny Rubeck For District Court Judge In North Carolina
Tonight I interviewed Sunny Rubeck, a candidate for District Court Judge in North Carolina. Sunny Rubeck is a survivor of the Secret War in Laos during the Vietnam War and in this interview, she shares her and her family’s story.
Before we get started please tell the audience about yourself and your background?
My full name is Sunny Panyanouvong-Rubeck. As you mentioned I am currently running for District Court Judge in North Carolina. My parents come from a small country called Laos. My parents understood that after the Vietnam War that basically that they would be raising their children in a communist regime. In their early 20’s they decided to trade the only country that they knew, where they owned land for rice farming for the opportunity to have freedom in America.
Can you tell us more about the Secret War in Laos?
The Secret War come essentially at the end of the Vietnam War. Many people may or may not know that Laos was the heaviest bombed country and we were not part of the Vietnam War. However, Laos is landlocked, and you have to go through Laos to get to Vietnam. Luckily my Uncle fought on the American side and we were able to come to America through his visa.
Robert what was really hard about this journey is that I was only two years old, my brother was almost four, my sister was a couple of months old, and my cousins were there. They were going from Ban Lakxao village to the capital and they had to take off their flip-flops because my Mom was afraid that the Communist Soldiers would hear us. When we finally arrive at the Mekong river my crying grew louder and my Mother was afraid that my crying would alert them to our position.
I cannot imagine what my Mom was going through knowing that your own daughter’s cry or laugh could be a liability. So, she kept feeding me pill after pill to sedate me. Well, she gave me too much. Luckily my Aunt noticed and grabbed my limp body and submerged my lifeless body into the Mekong to revive me. My Parents risked our lives so that we would have a better future.
That is a really touching story. I know that must my been difficult for you and your family.
You know, my sister is trying to move from Lastall to Charlotte right now. It has taken her over a year to make the decision in terms of where is best for her children’s education and everything else. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be 22 and have to make that decision overnight with two toddlers and an infant. They did not know if they were going to see their siblings again. They still had family in Laos and they did not know if they were ever going to see them again.
That is a really scary situation to be in. Especially since your parents were in their twenties when they had to make this decision.
I think you and I have spoken about this before. They left the only country they knew. Laotian is the only language that they spoke. It was hard being in a new country. We assimilated once we got to the United States when we were welcomed into a great democracy but my parents did not speak a lot of English when we first arrived. Eventually, we got our citizenship.
Your parents were lucky to get out but what about the people who had to stay behind?
I talked to my Aunt who stayed behind and they were afraid. They had children but they were a little older and they had stayed in Laos because of my Grandparents who were too elderly to come with us. They mentioned that it was extremely difficult for them and had they known the opportunity they could have had in the United States they would have come here. Laos is still a third-world country and it was very difficult for them. Although my aunts both have homes and they are made from wood. It was not made very sturdy. And, that house was not finished until about 10 years ago. She was basically living in a den and they live more comfortably than their neighbors.
What do you say to those people who say that only rich people get hurt in Communist countries?
That is absolutely not true. I would not agree with that. What I can tell you just on a personal level Robert. If my both of my aunts could come to the United States she would choose a life in the United State rather than live in Laos. Even with having our family rice farm their children do not have the same opportunities that were provided to my cousins or to me.
In America being first-generation, this is the only country where you can be the child of a refugee and then dream of running for Judge and running for Judge. My sister has been an educator for over 16 years and my brother served as a marine. It is in America where we can be who we want and do what we like.
What motived you to want to run for Judge?
You know what? I do not know many a whole lot of people from the Lao community that actually went to law school and choose this career path. When I was a young child I did not know at the LSAT or what an attorney actually did. I just knew that there was a gap in our community that I wanted to fill. I went to law school thinking that I was going to do immigration law when I finished. The same thing motivates me to run for judge. I look around Mecklenburg County which is the largest in terms of the cities in the Carolinas. In my ten-plus years, I have yet to take a case in District or Superior court. I want to show our communities that the door is open to all of us. If we want to run for judge we should. I am just as qualified. I am just as eager as anyone else.
What is the role of a judge in our society?
A judge is there to apply the law. We have three branches of government for a reason. We do not write the law. A judge needs judicial temperament, common sense, be punctual, and have courage. Above all of this, we have to follow the law and treat every single person equally and fairly.
How do you feel about activism from the Bench?
I feel the role of a judge is so important to our everyday lives. Let’s take the district court for example. Most of the cases are misdemeanor cases that are resolved. They are simple things speeding tickets, child custody, and child support cases, larceny cases, simple assault cases, and domestic violence cases. All of those cases are typically handled in district court. You have to research your judges because they affect a majority of your everyday life. That is why it is so important that people elect judges that follow the law or are you going to elect a judge that is going to create the law. I think it is problematic because what most people need and want is consistency in how a law is going to be applied. They want it to be fairly and uniform. A judge that follows the law is going to do that. Another judge who is more of an activist judge is going to apply the law based on how they feel. That to me is not fair. It is not just because how that judge feels one day will change another day.
And from what you are saying this would inevitably lead to inconsistency in the application of laws?
Yes, that could happen. What you have to hope is that the way the judge feels one day is the same as the next day. Justice is blind. That is why she depicted with a blindfold on and scale.