Chief Judge Announces New Anti-Discrimination Policies

By Christian Nolan

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Good evening Members,

During her weekly coronavirus update today, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced new anti-discrimination policies requiring a full disciplinary hearing in all claims of discriminatory conduct by a state court system employee that are investigated and substantiated by the inspector general.

Additionally, where a hearing officer sustains a charge of discriminatory conduct, the deputy chief administrative judge responsible for reviewing the hearing officer’s findings will consult with a newly established special panel. The special panel will consist of the counterpart deputy chief administrative judge for the courts inside or outside New York City, the deputy chief administrative judge for Justice Initiatives and the director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

DiFiore said the special panel will advise on the appropriate penalty to be imposed where charges of discrimination have been sustained in order to ensure statewide consistency of discipline, and to draw upon the broadest possible experience and wisdom in handling these sensitive matters.

Further, the state court system has issued an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy applicable to all non-judicial and judicial personnel prohibiting conduct and communications, including electronic and social media communications, that demean, disparage or harass others based on race, sex, gender identity and other personal attributes.

DiFiore said the policy fully details the standards and expectations that all court personnel must meet, and makes clear that their approach to bias, discrimination and harassment is “zero tolerance.”

“Even though it may sometimes feel like we’re taking two steps forward and one step back, I want to assure you that we will not be deterred from our goal of eliminating racial bias and discrimination,” said DiFiore. “We are in this for the long haul, and we will continue to make progress.”

In making the announcement, DiFiore addressed the handling of disciplinary charges that were filed last year against an upstate New York court employee who posted highly insensitive and offensive comments about the killing of George Floyd. She said that while the employee’s misconduct was substantiated, the court officials who filed the charges based on the inspector general’s report “unfortunately settled the matter through stipulated penalties and without a disciplinary hearing, and that was a mistake – a serious mistake.

“While settling certain types of disciplinary matters can serve appropriate goals, settling cases that involve charges of racial or other forms of bias creates the perception that such conduct, though penalized, is nevertheless tolerated in our ranks,” said DiFiore. “Well, it’s not.”

No Snow Days

DiFiore noted that the state court system’s productivity was largely unaffected by last week’s snowstorm.

“In the past, thousands of court proceedings would have been postponed and rescheduled leading to disruption and delay,” said DiFiore. “So very clearly, one of the benefits demonstrated by our new virtual model is that most court business and services can now be carried out and delivered seamlessly over our online platform, notwithstanding inclement weather or other conditions that would otherwise make it difficult or unsafe to travel to court.”

For the week of Feb. 1, judges and staff conferenced and heard 22,133 matters, settled or disposed of 5,752 of those matters and issued over 1,600 written decisions on motions and other undecided matters. In addition, 956 virtual bench trials and evidentiary and fact-finding hearings were commenced last week across the state.

Also last week, the Unindicted Felony Parts in New York City completed its fourth week of operations and another 756 cases were remotely conferenced, resulting in 165 additional dispositions. Since inception, the judges presiding in these parts have heard more than 3,200 cases and achieved dispositions in 1,046, or 33%, of the matters.

COVID-19 Webinars

Tuesday, Feb. 9 – Retirement Life Planning After COVID-19: Where Are You and Your Practice Heading?

Wednesday, Feb. 10 – Liability for Injury Resulting From Administration of the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Friday, Feb. 12 – The Nuts and Bolts of Representing Landlords and Tenants in 2021.

Latest NYSBA.ORG News

In addition to coronavirus updates, we are adding other interesting new content to our website.

Today, we take a deep dive into the significant amendments made to the Uniform Rules for the Trial Courts that went into effect Feb. 1.

Additionally, we have a timely look at what the SEC might do about GameStop.

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