State Court System Announces New Anti-Discrimination Policies

By Christian Nolan

May 17, 2021

State Court System Announces New Anti-Discrimination Policies


By Christian Nolan

Good evening Members,

The New York State Unified Court System provided an update today on the numerous steps being taken to carry out last year’s recommendations by an independent special adviser for the Equal Justice in the Courts Initiative.

Steps include a policy of zero tolerance for bias and discrimination in the courts, including a new “anti-discrimination and anti-harassment” policy addressing electronic and social media communications.

There will be mandatory in-depth training starting this summer on implicit bias, cultural awareness, and related issues for all judges, including town and village justices, and nonjudicial staff such as court officers.

The court system said it would engage in a communications strategy to educate court system employees and court users about the existence and purpose of the Inspector General’s office, including its Bias Matters Unit and procedures to lodge bias complaints. Additionally, a bias matters ombudsperson has been appointed to assist court employees and others with questions relating to the filing of complaints and to facilitate the complaint process.

Other steps include:

  • Updated juror materials and orientation videos to address issues of juror bias.
  • Mandating name tags for all uniformed court personnel.
  • Improving human resources practices and the transparency of hiring, performance evaluation and promotional processes.
  • Publicizing the newly adopted “Mission Statement for the Unified Court System,” which officials said incorporates critically important principles of equity and inclusion.
  • Uniformed court officers and other staff will receive regular training on how to best serve court users who have limited English proficiency and/or hearing impairments.
  • Improving methods for data collection and analysis, which officials said are critical tools in combating and remedying racial bias, as well as enhancing data transparency by making user-friendly data reports available to the public.

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore also addressed the steps during her weekly coronavirus update today.

“…[T]here can be no higher priority for us as an institution than ensuring that every person is treated with equity, dignity and respect, and I look forward to working with all of you to continue the progress we have made in pursuit of equal justice for all,” said DiFiore.

Recommendations aimed at advancing diversity and inclusion within the court system and ensuring equal justice under the law were issued last fall in a 100-page report from Jeh Johnson, the special adviser on equal justice in the New York State courts. Johnson set forth 13 recommendations and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks assigned Hon. Edwina G. Mendelson, deputy chief administrative judge for justice initiatives, to lead implementation of the recommendations within the court system. Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, is serving as an independent monitor.

Volunteer Justices Answered the Call

During her weekly coronavirus update today, DiFiore took time to recognize the work of volunteer Supreme Court justices and acting Supreme Court justices who presided over newly filed child custody, visitation and guardianship matters in the New York City Family Court during the pandemic.

DiFiore explained that 45 justices, including seven administrative judges, volunteered and their participation in the pilot program was a success “on many levels.”

From the time the program began in early February through late April, over 700 matters were heard and nearly 300 of those matters were resolved.

“This means that hundreds of families and children in crisis were able to have their urgent time-sensitive matters heard and resolved as expeditiously as possible,” said DiFiore. “And a fair number of these matters were ultimately resolved through referral to mediation, enabling the parties to formulate their own parenting plans, which, as we know, generally lead to better compliance and outcomes in those matters.”

DiFiore said the work of the volunteer judges not only promotes speedy access to justice, but it helps to stem the build-up of backlogs in the Family Court, which frees up judges and referees in that court to try more cases and resolve the more complex, longstanding matters on their dockets.

She said the court system was excited and eager to expand this pilot program but that some of the volunteer judges have returned to trying cases in their courts and now have less time to hear these Family Court matters.

“However, we are looking forward to the return to the bench of a number of highly experienced Supreme Court justices who recently accepted our invitation to renew their applications for certification following the positive change in circumstances last month affecting our court system’s budget,” said DiFiore. “The welcome return of these seasoned jurists will undoubtedly increase our judicial capacity and help us meet the increased demand for justice services in courts like the New York City Family Court.”

COVID-19 Webinars

Tuesday, May 18 – Managing Your Law Firm Post-Pandemic: Practical Considerations for Human Resources.

Tuesday, May 18 – Reimagining the Client Experience Post 2020.

Thursday, May 20 – Local and State Government Law Section Spring 2021 Forum (Part 2): Ethics of Leaving Public & Private Legal Employment & Virtual Court Appearances.

Friday, May 21 – Virtual Immigration Representation: Practical and Ethical Considerations.

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