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Minority judges offer solutions to bias in courts

Report addresses systemic racism in judicial system

By: Bennett Loudon//September 10, 2020

Minority judges offer solutions to bias in courts

Report addresses systemic racism in judicial system

By: Bennett Loudon//September 10, 2020

The Judicial Friends Association Inc. has submitted a report to the New York State Court’s Commission on Equal Justice in the Courts with recommendations for addressing racism and systemic bias in the judicial system.

The report was submitted to Secretary Jeh Johnson, who was appointed by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to be the Special Advisor on Equal Justice in the Courts.

As a result of several deaths of Blacks and Latinos at the hands of law enforcement and the public outcry that followed, Johnson’s commission was tasked with reviewing existing policies, practices and initiatives that impact institutional racism within the New York State Courts.

The report was prepared to assist Johnson in the work of the commission. The report concludes that systemic racism and unconscious bias exists throughout the New York State Court system.

The report is a detailed compilation of interviews and research on the perpetuation of systemic racism within the court system. It not only identifies sources of systemic racism and unconscious bias within the court’s existing policies and practices, but it also includes numerous recommendations offering solutions for lasting, maximum impact to eradicate systemic racism and unconscious bias in the court system.

The report’s authors believe the recommendations will have a widespread impact on judges and court systems throughout the nation.

The report discusses systemic racism in the following areas:

  • Appointment processes for judges and non-judicial staff.
  • Assignment of cases and parts to judges, including the vast authority of administrative and supervisory judges; the lack of diversity in these positions; assignment of judges to specialty parts and high-profile, high-value or notable cases, and the lack of transparency in the process.
  • Court officers, including their treatment of court users, Black attorneys and litigants; their selection and training; racism within the New York State Court Officers Association and little diversity among court officers, particularly in supervisory positions.
  • How implicit bias impacts the criminal justice system, particularly as it relates to the police, prosecutors and judges and the need for an auditing system to track judicial decisions based upon race and ethnicity and patterns of implicit bias.
  • Use of data to analyze statistics to highlight and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in sentences.
  • The intersection between the courts and the police and prosecutors.
  • The current system for reporting racial discrimination.
  • Expansion of judicial community outreach.
  • Elimination of implicit bias during jury selection and trials through the creation of videos to be played to potential jurors, enactment of court rules and model jury instructions.
  • Expansion of the jury pool to include more racial and ethnic minorities and young people.
  • Creation of model rules for judges to denounce racism and discrimination and to encourage participation of racial and ethnic minority and women attorneys.
  • Increased efforts to learn to pronounce unfamiliar names of racial and ethnic minorities to show respect for all people.

The report also includes charts detailing a breakdown of the number of Black judicial and non-judicial staff for the past five to six years which indicate a lack of diversity in the court system, particularly in key positions of authority.

Historically, racial minorities have been underrepresented in judicial appointments to the bench and in judicial and non-judicial supervisory positions.

“Judicial racial diversity is essential to increase public confidence in the judiciary and the courts, provide decision-making power to formerly disenfranchised populations, and ensure equal justice for all,” said Erika Edwards, president of the Judicial Friends Association.

“A racially diverse judiciary promotes an exchange of different ideas and points of view and reduces the effect of unintended racial, gender and institutional bias,” she said.

The Judicial Friends Association Inc. was created in 1976 by a group of Black judges within the state to advocate for the fair treatment of minority judges, judicial staff and attorneys.

[email protected] / (585) 232-2035

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