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Judge D’Emic lectures Bay Ridge Lawyers on bias in judicial decision making

April 28, 2016 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Bay Ridge Lawyers Association and its president Grace Borrino hosted Justice Matthew J. D'Emic for a Continuing Legal Education seminar titled “Bias in Judicial Decision Making: A Judge’s View” at its monthly meeting on Wednesday. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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The Bay Ridge Lawyers Association (BRLA) invited Justice Matthew D’Emic to present a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) lecture titled “Bias in Judicial Decision Making: A Judge’s View” during its monthly meeting at Hunter’s Steak and Ale House on Wednesday night.

The BRLA packed the house as additional members of the judiciary showed up to support D’Emic, and many new and prospective members showed up as it was also a “New Member Outreach Meeting.”

As the title of the lecture suggests, D’Emic spent a little over an hour discussing bias in judicial decision making. He went over what exactly judicial bias is, the difference between implicit and explicit bias, when judges should recuse themselves and how judges can avoid bias.

“I’m talking about this to relay a deeper sense of the achievement of justice and to emphasize that judges need to closely examine everything that he or she does to uncover any open or hidden bias or prejudice,” he said. “We strive to recognize and restrain our personal biases so that our judgements are not controlled or blinded by them.”

D’Emic went on to explain that explicit bias can more easily be weeded out of the system than implicit bias, which is dangerous because judges can be guilty of it without knowing it.

“Bias is a predisposition or preconceived opinion that prevents a person from impartially evaluating facts that have been presented for determination,” he said. “Implicit bias is an unintentional predisposition representing unconscious mental processes based on implicit attitudes or stereotypes that play an often unnoticed role in decision making.”

How can judges avoid the pitfalls of their own implicit biases? The judge explained that there are built-in safeguards within the system and that a reliance upon traditional common law rationale helps as well. Perhaps most importantly, though, is to stop and think things through.

“There are cognitive strategies,” D’Emic explained. “This is going to sound obvious, but we have to listen and we have to think. Judges have to take their intuitive thoughts, their spontaneous thoughts, and think them through. In other words — engage in deliberate thought, making decisions slowly and with effort.”

The judge described instances where he had to overcome his own biases to fairly rule on cases. He said that this is one of the most important things for judges to remember because, especially when it comes to sentencing, it has a large effect on people involved in the case and the community at large.

“Looking at these things, and not just relying on a gut feeling or acting out of anger, is important,” D’Emic said. “It may be that the bias judge is more pernicious than the corrupt judge, at least those who ignore their biases. Judges have a sworn duty to receive information, assess it fairly and decide impartially and without bias.”

The BRLA will host its next monthly meeting on May 25 where Justice Bernard J. Graham will present a CLE session. The group’s annual dinner dance will be held on June 23 at Battery Gardens in Manhattan.


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