Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson To Discuss His Report on Institutional Racism in the Court System

By Susan DeSantis

Jeh Johnson

Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, a partner at Paul, Weiss in New York City, will be the keynote speaker at a “virtual lunch” held by the New York State Bar Association’s Judicial Section from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 29, the final day of the association’s two-week Annual Meeting.

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore appointed Johnson to conduct an independent review of the state court system’s response to complaints about institutional racism. The chief judge said the probe was spurred by the tragic death of George Floyd who was restrained for more than eight minutes by a Minneapolis police officer who held a knee to his neck. It is part of the court system’s commitment to ongoing, rigorous self-analysis, she said.

Johnson will discuss his findings, which are based on several hundred interviews with New York State judges, court clerks, court officers, court attorneys, administrative personnel, public defenders, prosecutors, defense lawyers and court observers. In June of 2020, he issued a 100-page public report recommending a number of changes including instituting a “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination, enhancing bias training for jurors and assigning an independent monitor to evaluate the progress. DiFiore has vowed to follow all the recommendations.

In addition to his position as Secretary of Homeland Security under the Obama Administration, Johnson served as general counsel of the Department of Defense, general counsel of the Department of the Air Force and as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He is now a partner in the Litigation Department of Paul, Weiss.

At the event, the Judicial Section is recognizing Hon. Rolando T. Acosta, presiding justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, and the Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission. Justice Acosta will receive the Judicial Section’s Distinguished Jurist Award, which recognizes judicial excellence and extraordinary commitment to the law.

The Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission will receive the section’s Advancement of Judicial Diversity Award, which recognizes individuals for their efforts to promote diversity and inclusion at all levels of the judiciary. Commission co-chairs Hon. Shirley Troutman, associate justice, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, and Hon. Troy K. Webber, associate justice, Appellate Division, First Department, will accept the awards on behalf of the commission.

“Diversity on the bench ensures public trust and confidence in our justice system,” said Hon. Barbara R. Kapnick, presiding member of the Judicial Section and associate justice, Appellate Division, First Department. “I can think of no one more deserving of these honors than Justice Acosta and the Williams Commission. They embody the very best of our profession.”

Justice Acosta has been presiding justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, since May 2017. During his tenure, the Court has modernized its systems—making the administration of justice more efficient and accessible to the public—and has enjoyed its highest level of productivity in recent memory. Justice Acosta serves on the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts, the New York State Bar Association’s Task Force on Free Expression in the Digital Age and is a Fellow of the New York Bar Foundation.Justice Acosta’s judicial career began when he was elected to a countywide Civil Court judgeship in New York County in 1997. He was later designated as an Acting Supreme Court Justice to preside over and spearhead the creation of the Harlem Community Justice Center, a problem-solving court. In 2002, he was elected as a New York State Supreme Court Justice in New York County. In 2008, he was appointed by the governor to the Appellate Division, First Department, and served as an Associate Justice until his appointment as Presiding Justice.

The Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission (formerly the New York State Judicial Commission on Minorities) was formed in 1988 to conduct an in-depth study on minority participation on the Unified Court System bench and nonjudicial workforce as well as perceptions regarding racial bias in the courts. Led by Franklin H. Williams, the Commission held public hearings, met with members of the legal community and surveyed minority attorneys, litigants and others. The Commission’s final report was issued in 1991. Among other findings, the 1991 report revealed a severe lack of racial diversity on the bench and in high-level court system positions and a perception among some citizens that minorities are not fairly treated in the courts.

Following the release of the 1991 report, the Commission was established as a permanent entity and renamed in honor of Franklin H. Williams. Over the last thirty years, the Commission has sought to ensure equal access and full participation in the Court system by persons and communities of color in the judicial process and the legal profession.

Honoring attorneys who render extraordinary service to the public and the profession is part of NYSBA’s Annual Meeting tradition. The 144th Annual Meeting has been focusing on more than 65 different topics each day. Subjects include Employment Litigation in the Wake of COVID-19, Conducting a Jury Trial in the Shadow of COVID-19, State Tax Implications From the Pandemic and Vaccines: Legal Mandates and Challenges.

The Presidential Summit on Wednesday, Jan. 27, will look at the COVID-19 Pandemic: Legal, Constitutional, and Public Health Issues.  One of the nation’s top constitutional law scholars, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law, and Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician, public health activist, author, academic, and advisor, will speak at the event.

Other featured speakers at the Annual Meeting include Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Pascal Saint-Amans, director of the Centre for Tax Policy and Administration, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

For more information on NYSBA’s Annual Meeting, click here.

The Judicial Section event is open to the press, but email Susan DeSantis at [email protected] to attend.

About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, the Association has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.

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Contact: Susan DeSantis
[email protected]
201-575-5756

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