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HOW I MADE IT: DANIEL DENG

Explaining American law to Chinese immigrants

Deng has become a high-profile advocate in the local community through his radio show and books and newspaper columns on immigrant rights and navigating the legal system.

March 01, 2009|David Pierson

The gig: One of the most recognizable attorneys in Southern California's ethnic Chinese community, Daniel Deng specializes in criminal defense and runs a law office in Rosemead with four partners, handling about 300 cases a year. A former journalist, he hosts a radio program and writes books and newspaper columns on immigrant rights and navigating the American legal system.

Background: Born in Southern China's Guangdong province in 1967, during the Cultural Revolution. His grandfather, a landlord, disappeared during the chaos and his family was blacklisted and separated. He watched mobs castigate and spit on his grandmother during weekly political rallies. Only after Deng Xiaoping came to power in the 1970s was the family able to reunite.

Daniel Deng, 42, excelled in high school and graduated two years early at 15. Aspiring to be an author or journalist, he studied English in college and was encouraged by a Long Beach family teaching in China to move to the United States. His family sold its few valuables to buy a color TV used to bribe officials to get a passport. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1987 with $50 in his pocket, a passion for writing and a determination to succeed.

Education: Shenzhen University, Cal State Northridge, Whittier Law School

Family: Lives in San Marino with his wife, two daughters and son

Getting started: He interned with television consumer advocate David Horowitz in 1989, learning how to pressure businesses to act fairly. Later he became a Chinese-language reporter at the International Daily News, then at the Chinese Daily News, the largest Chinese newspaper in the United States. Covering the local Chinese community, he noticed misunderstandings between immigrants and mainstream society. One of the most common mistakes he came across were Chinese motorists who refused to sign speeding tickets thinking it would be an admission of guilt. Some chose to be arrested rather than sign. He realized there was a market for a trusted attorney with so many Chinese pouring into the San Gabriel Valley.

Turning point: While taking law classes at night, he co-wrote the book "True Crime Experiences" with forensic scientist Henry Lee, famed for his work in the O.J. Simpson murder trial and whom Deng had met during his reporter days. The book, which was written in Chinese and detailed Lee's experiences, was a sensation in Taiwan and raised Deng's profile in the local immigrant community.

Expanding his reach: He opened a law office in 1998 and continued writing books for newly arrived immigrants such as "American Law 101," which explained how to use credit cards, how to buy a house and how to apply for citizenship. He followed that with "American Traffic Law." His books can be found in most Chinese bookstores in the San Gabriel Valley.

Deng also hosts a weekly radio show discussing legal issues on the Mandarin-language station KAZN-AM (1300) every Saturday at 1 p.m.

Changing perceptions: "Chinese people generally don't trust lawyers. They think we're crooks. We have to show that we're problem solvers and completely ethical. I'm in a good position to change peoples' lives for the better. I like to say that I'm a social worker with better pay."

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david.pierson@latimes.com

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