Independent Review Recommends Ways to Advance Equal Justice Under The Law

By Brandon Vogel

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Good afternoon Members,

Recommendations aimed at advancing diversity and inclusion within the court system and ensuring equal justice under the law have been issued in a Report from the Special Adviser on Equal Justice in the New York State Courts.

“I was reminded over the last four months of the intense pride and dedication that many in and around the New York State court system feel for their work. In my assessment as a lawyer, a student of history, a former public official, and as an African American, this is a moment that demands a strong and pronounced rededication to equal justice under law by the New York State court system,” said Jeh Johnson, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, who led the independent evaluation.

“The recommendations put forth by Secretary Johnson offer a tangible framework for a court system that truly reflects the diversity and inclusiveness of our communities, ensures the fair administration of justice and promotes the public trust. I am extremely thankful to Jeh Johnson and his team at the Paul, Weiss law firm for their extraordinarily thoughtful, comprehensive analysis of these critical issues and for their tremendous time and effort in the preparation of this invaluable report,” said Chief Judge DiFiore, who created the commission in June. “We fully endorse this report and will proceed now to implement its recommendations.”

Among Secretary Johnson’s recommendations are:
• Calling on the courts’ leadership to embrace a robust “zero tolerance” discrimination policy that specifically addresses racial bias, supported by enhanced efforts to raise awareness about the courts’ discrimination policy among court employees, court users and the public.

  • Developing and mandating comprehensive bias training−with a strong focus on implicit bias, racial bias and cultural sensitivity−for judges and non-judicial employees alike.
  • Incorporating a segment on implicit bias in the orientation video shown to jurors; creating and implementing new rules to allow for the questioning of prospective jurors about implicit bias; and developing and adopting jury instructions that explain the concept of implicit bias and remind jurors to be aware of their own implicit biases.
  • Initiating best practices to strengthen the court system’s mechanisms for making bias complaints, and raising awareness among court employees, litigants and other court users about the procedures in place to lodge a bias complaint.
  • Evaluating proposed legislation, regulations and rules pertaining to the New York State Judiciary for any potential bias or disparate impact on people of color.
  • Enhancing human resources practices to improve diversity and inclusion within the court system workforce.

The report’s ultimate recommendation is assignment of an independent monitor to evaluate and report on the court system’s implementation of the recommendations.  Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, will lead that initiative.

“I am very pleased that distinguished civil rights advocate Alphonso David has so graciously agreed to oversee the implementation process as we put into place these systemwide reforms in our ongoing efforts to remove barriers to justice and eliminate racial bias in all its forms,” said the Chief Judge.

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