Good afternoon Members,
A report released today by the New York State Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts says there are significant areas of bias with regard to the treatment of female attorneys, litigants and witnesses despite marked improvement over the years.
The Committee, chaired by the Hon. Betty Weinberg Ellerin of Alston & Bird, worked with experts to develop and distribute the survey on behalf of Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to a large, random sample of attorneys admitted to practice law in New York State, including judges and court personnel. Over 5,300 attorneys responded.
The poll was built upon a survey and other research conducted in the 1980s by the New York Task Force on Women in the Courts – a precursor to the committee. That report concluded that “gender bias against women litigants, attorneys and court employees is a pervasive problem with grave consequences.”
Among the findings in the latest report:
• Evidence of improvement since the earlier survey was clear in many key areas. While not specifically covered in the survey questions, one area of great progress is the number of women judges now on the bench, with significant improvement in the number of women administrative judges and appellate court judges.
• In response to questions regarding inappropriate conduct within the courthouse, 10% of female attorneys reported that unwelcome physical contact by other attorneys occurred very often or often and another 36% reported it sometimes happened. Male respondents also reported this occurring, though to a lesser extent, as 3% reported this happened often or very often and another 16% said it occurred sometimes.
• Both female and male attorneys reported almost no problem when it came to experiencing unwelcome physical contact by judges with 90% of female respondents and 96% of male respondents reporting this rarely or never occurred.
• Regarding the reporting of sexual harassment in all of its forms, only 31% of female respondents and 49% of male respondents indicated that they knew how, when and where to report a claim related to misconduct in a Unified Court System facility.
• More than half of the female survey participants and 13% of the male survey participants agreed with the statement that male judges appear to give more credibility to the statements and arguments of male attorneys than female attorneys. There appeared to be less concern with female judges, though 29% of female respondents agreed that female judges also appeared to give more credibility to male than female attorneys.
“Though we have clearly come a long way in reducing gender bias in the courts, the survey findings show that substantial inequities continue to exist regarding the treatment of women litigants, witnesses and attorneys, including inappropriate or offensive conduct directed toward women by far too many members of the legal profession,” said DiFiore. “These insights, and the thoughtful proposals offered by the committee, will pave the way to further reforms as we seek to turn the ideal of the gender-neutral courtroom into reality.”
As part of the report, the committee issued a series of recommendations such as effectively publicizing the court system’s procedure for filing sexual harassment and other types of complaints, and mandating regular training for all judges and court personnel designed to make them aware of and recognize gender bias and how to take appropriate immediate action when such behaviors appear or are reported.
The report also takes a look at the following issues and offers additional recommendations: the handling of domestic violence cases and treatment of victims; rape and prostitution cases; the adequacy and enforcement of child support awards; the selection of female attorneys for fee-generating appointments; and the adequacy of Children’s Centers, lactation and other courthouse facilities in addressing the basic needs of litigants and witnesses.
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