Profile / Dua Abudiab
By Kaustuv M. Das
Her Cup is Overflowing
How does a daughter of immigrants
Born in Kansas, Raised in Texas
And a heart patient at the UDub
Go from 0 – 60 in five second flat?
Inspire women of color to succeed?
And become the first person of color to lead
Our beloved KCBA?
By relying on her faith and her family.
By living life with grace and humility.
By saying “yes” to life in a very big way.
Many of you were introduced to Dua Abudiab, the new Executive Director of the KCBA, in President John McKay’s column in the February 2021 issue of the Bar Bulletin. So, you know about her work as a public defender with the King County Department of Public Defense and the high regard in which she is held by judges before whom she has appeared, her colleagues, and even her opposing counsel. But there is so much more to Dua than her professional accomplishments and it is my pleasure to give you a little insight into those aspects of our new Executive Director.
Dua was born in Lawrence, Kansas, where her father was getting his Ph.D. in mathematics, and grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas. Both her parents are immigrants and educators and instilled in Dua a strong respect and love for learning — something that Dua’s parents gave to each of their children. Dua’s brother is a cardiologist in Spokane and her sister a pediatrician who practices at Seattle Children’s. Not surprisingly, Dua has had more than her share of academic success. She received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Texas A&M and her law degree from the South Texas College of Law. The Hortense Ward Appreciation Award — recognizing an outstanding female student who exemplifies the qualities of public service and commitment to social causes affecting women — was just one of the number of awards she received in law school. In a telling glimpse into Dua’s self-effacing manner however, she is perfectly comfortable identifying herself as the “least educated” person in her family.
Dua’s family is incredibly important to her. Her family, her Islamic faith, and her commitment to living life to the fullest are the three fundamental pillars upon which Dua — the person — stands. When Dua asked her best friend, her sister, what people who are just getting to know her in her new role as the Executive Director of the KCBA should know about Dua, her sister said: “You’re incredibly resilient and have overcome so much but never let it be an excuse to not continue to achieve. At the same time, your experiences have given you a unique perspective where you are pathologically empathetic.” Dua’s “pathological empathy” is something that everyone who spoke to me about Dua emphasized.
For example, Aileen Tsao, who worked with Dua for seven years at the Department of Public Defense and on committees outside of work, warned me that putting into words how truly remarkable Dua was is likely a losing proposition. Nevertheless, Ms. Tsao commented that “everyone who meets Dua remarks on her extraordinary compassion and her thoughtful approach to any issue. Dua is fearless and has unlimited stamina when it comes to the hard, emotional work of pursuing justice and fairness — whether it’s in her work in the community or as a public defense attorney. Dua is incredibly resilient, having overcome personal and professional challenges that few will ever experience. At the same time, she never views those hurdles as an excuse not to achieve. Rather, Dua values the importance of including everyone, and she will always take the time to listen to another person’s thoughts and opinions and find value in their perspective.”
Not only is her family important to Dua, but she is the glue of her family. She is the person who plans the itinerary for all their family get togethers, starting with the quick 7:30 am walk to the late-night board game sessions. Indeed, when Dua moved to Seattle in October 2013, her closest relative was an uncle in Tacoma. Yet, a mere seven years later her siblings are both practicing medicine in Washington and both her parents are settled and teaching in Pocatello, Idaho.
In high school, Dua’s passion for the outdoors and love for detail-oriented problem solving led her to a certificate in forensics. This introduction to forensics science carried over to both her undergraduate studies at Texas A&M and to her eventually becoming a defense attorney. As fascinating as Dua found Wnt signaling pathways and natural killer (NK) cells, she did not see herself in a lab for the rest of her professional career and decided she wanted to do something different after she finished her undergraduate studies (a father with a Ph.D. and a mother with three Masters degrees pretty much ensured that an undergraduate degree would not be the last degree she received). Although she did not know any lawyers, her interest in forensics had exposed her to various aspects of criminal law and criminal defense. That exposure, along with her strong commitment to social justice issues, made her decision to go to law school with the goal of becoming a public defender a “no brainer.”
Dua’s joining the Colorado State Public Defender’s office right out of law school, and then moving to Washington, was driven by a combination of her love for the outdoors and desire to work as part of a nationally-ranked PD’s office. When she started with the King County Department of Public Defense it was the norm for all new PDs to start in the Civil Commitment group working in the Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA) court. After working in ITA court for a few years, Dua rotated out of that work. A few years later, she came back to the ITA court, where she continued working until taking over as our Executive Director. Judge Marcine Anderson, before whom Dua has appeared many times, used the following five words to define Dua: “Kind, At Ease, Warm, and Tenacious.” Judge Anderson remarked that Dua’s warmth and tenaciousness is reflected in everything she does — from her interactions with her clients to her interactions with court personnel, her colleagues, and opposing counsel. Judge Anderson could not think of a better pick to be the next Executive Director of the KCBA but cautioned that anyone who takes Dua to be a pushover because of her calm and warm demeanor will do so at their own peril. Judge Anderson noted that Dua’s calm and warm demeanor is simply a reflection of the fact that she is always incredibly well-prepared and of her strength in her beliefs and what she holds dear.
Dua’s resilience is reflected in her quiet expression of her Islamic faith. As many of you have seen, Dua wears a hijab. In 2015, a friend of Dua’s decided to stop wearing a hijab after she was verbally assaulted on a Seattle metro bus. After Dua heard about this awful incident, she wrote an article that was published in the Seattle Times, and later picked up by the Houston Chronicle and Corpus Christi Caller Times, entitled Stop Hate Speech; Reaffirm Hope for American Muslims. Please take the time to read this article as it not only continues to resonate today, but provides a wonderful vision into Dua in her own words.
Dua’s Islamic faith gives her the inner strength to know when to lead and when to lean on others with greater subject matter expertise. She is not afraid to ask for help or to apologize when she is wrong because her faith tells her that no one is above anyone else. In her article, Dua says “to the millions of American Muslim girls growing up across [the United States]: You have the right to grow up with the same hopes and dreams as any young person. You can be an American and a practicing Muslim.” Dua not only talks the talk, she walks the walk.
John mentioned in his column the contributions Dua has made to a number of local bar associations. Her work as co-chair of the Joint Asian Judicial Evaluation Committee, her service in a variety of leadership roles with Washington Women Lawyers and the Middle Eastern Legal Association of Washington, and her recognition as an outstanding mentor by the South Asian Bar Association bear witness to Dua’s commitment to helping women and persons of color succeed in the legal profession. Equally importantly; however, to quote Stephan Thomas — a former prosecutor and Dua’s cohort mate at the Washington Leadership Institute — this background “is going to energize and excite young lawyers and lawyers of color.” Dua stepping into the Executive Director role not only allows the KCBA to leverage her strong network of contacts — through the WLI and her work with minority bar associations — but, according to Mr. Thomas, sends a critical message to the KCBA’s partners and peers as to the direction the KCBA is heading and what is important to the KCBA.
In addition to her family and her faith, the third pillar that undergirds Dua Abudiab is her desire and willingness to live life to the fullest. Dua suffers from a congenital heart disease. Instead of letting that slow her down, she sees it as an opportunity to seize each day and to live it to its fullest. Dua does not see herself as a cup half-full sort of person, instead she sees her cup as overflowing. The triple pandemics of the last year — COVID-19, the national conversation and recognition of long-seated systemic racism, and acknowledgement of growing economic inequities — have only reemphasized to Dua the importance of leading her deepest and most meaningful life in the service of others. Anne Aumell, Director of Philanthropy at UW Medicine Advancement, talks about her absolute awe of Dua’s ability to “say ‘yes’ to life in a very big way.” Dua volunteers on the Heart Health Council as part of the UW Medicine Accelerator Campaign, but more than that it is Dua’s willingness to speak to her peers and to medical professionals and to serve as a role model to young women and her peers at which Ms. Aumell marvels.
There is one other thing about Dua at which Ms. Aumell marvels. Dua’s love of motorcycles. When Dua started with the Department of Public Defense, her first two officemates rode motorcycles. Doing what any rational person — who knows her parents are approximately 1,200 miles away — would do in response to the day-long discussions about torque, power to weight ratio, and timing sequences, Dua bought her first motorcycle on craigslist.com. She now rides a Honda CBR500R (a bike that goes from 0-60 mph in five seconds and will cover a quarter mile in less than 14 seconds from a standing start). Apparently Dua isn’t into her motorcycle just for the speed. She prefers multiple thousand-mile bike rides with her “crew,” with whom she has traveled to (and through) some of the most scenic parts of North America.
Having already bastardized Hamilton above, allow me to quote someone else who borrowed from that musical (although on a much larger stage): “If we’re to live up to our own time / Then victory won’t lie in the blade / But in all the bridges we’ve made / That is the promise to glade / The hill we climb / If only we dare.” Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb. Dua Abudiab lives every day to its fullest because she dares and I for one am excited and thrilled to see where she leads the King County Bar Association.