Cindy Chung currently serves as the chief federal prosecutor in Western Pennsylvania, and has now been tapped to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Cindy Kyounga Chung was born in 1975 in Omaha, Nebraska. She attended Yale University, getting a B.A. in 1997. She spent two years as a Fellow at the Yale-China Association and then got a J.D. from Columbia Law School in 2002.
After law school, Chung clerked for Judge Myron Thompson on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama and then joined the New York District Attorney’s Office. In 2009, Chung moved to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division as a trial attorney. In 2014, Chung became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Chung was nominated in October 2021 to be U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. She was confirmed by voice vote on November 19, 2021 and has served since then.
History of the Seat
Chung has been nominated to Judge D. Brook Smith’s seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Smith, a Republican, was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and to the Third Circuit by President George W. Bush in 2002.
Other than her clerkship, Chung has spent her entire legal career as a state and federal prosecutor. She started with the New York District Attorney’s Office, where she prosecuted rapper Foxy Brown for violating probation after assaulting two manicurists. Judge Wants More Info on Foxy Brown’s Ear Woes Before Deciding Whether to Let Her Out of Jail, A.P., Jan. 18, 2008. She also sought the dismissal of charges against a bicyclist who was charged with assaulting a police officer, after videotapes on Youtube showed little support for the assault. See Barbara Ross, Bicyclist in Cop-Shove Vid Pedals Away a Free Man, New York Daily News, Sept. 6, 2008.
In 2009, Chung became a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, where she litigated civil rights cases around the country. In one case, Chung prosecuted police officers involved in the cover-up after the Danziger Bridge shootings in New Orleans. See Michael Kunzelman, Ex-Cop Says He Helped Cover Up Katrina Shootings, A.P., July 11, 2011. In another notable case, Chung prosecuted a Pennsylvania police officer for tasering an inmate while he was banging his head against the cell door. See Rich Lord, Millvale Police Officer Pleads Not Guilty: Says Plaintiff Was on ‘Substance’, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 25, 2014. This prosecution went to trial, which resulted in the officer being convicted of civil rights violations. See Brian Bowling, Jurors Convict Officer of Civil Rights Violation, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Nov. 20, 2014.
In 2014, Chung began serving as a federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh, where, among other cases, she brought to the judge’s attention that the defendant’s counsel was sleeping through large portions of the trial, leading to a mistrial. See Joe Mandak, Man Gets New Trial for Mortgage Fraud Because of Sleeping Lawyer, A.P., May 2, 2017. She also prosecuted felon in possession cases. See Adam Brandolph, Jury Weighs Gun Charges Against Baldwin Felon, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, May 21, 2015.
Additionally, Chung prosecuted Ryan Kyle under the 2009 Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act based on his assault of a black man at a Pittsburgh subway station. See Torsten Ove, Defendant to Serve Concurrent Prison Time for Federal Hate Crime, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 24, 2017. She similarly prosecuted Jeffrey Burgess for beating up an Indian man at a Red Robin. See Torsten Ove, Bethel Park Man Guilty in Hate Crime Beating of Indian Man, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 29, 2017. The two prosecutions were the first two ever to be brought in the Western District under the Shepard-Byrd Act. See id.
In 2021, President Joe Biden appointed Chung to be U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. After she was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, Chung took charge of the federal prosecutions in Western Pennsylvania. While U.S. Attorney, Chung’s office indicted Zachary Dinell and Tyler Smith under the Shepard-Byrd Act for abusing residents of a special needs facility. See Torsten Ove, Pair Indicted on Hate Crime Charges; Prosecutors: Former Caretakers Beat Patients, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar. 26, 2022.
Unlike Biden’s other Pennsylvania nominee to the Third Circuit, Chung has the support of both her home-state senators for elevation. That, combined with her painless and swift confirmation to her current post, makes it fairly likely that Chung will join the Third Circuit by the end of the Congress.