Justice Matthew D’Emic discusses diversity, bias at Bay Ridge Lawyers Association meeting
The Bay Ridge Lawyers Association hosted Justice Matthew D’Emic, administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term, for its monthly meeting on Third Avenue Wednesday night where he gave a continuing legal education lecture on diversity and bias in the criminal justice system.
“Judge D’Emic has been here for many years and has always supported our organization,” said continuing legal education co-chair Rosa Pannitto. “In addition to his administrative duties, Judge D’Emic presides over the Brooklyn Domestic Violence Court and the Brooklyn Mental Health Court. Judge D’Emic has been recognized for his work on domestic violence and mental health. He frequently lectures on these topics and is an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School. We’re lucky to have him present for our diversity topic.”
The lengthy title of the seminar was “Diversity, Inclusion and the Elimination of Bias in the Judiciary and the Legal Profession. How Much Have We Done? How Much Have We Yet to Do?” It gave the judge opportunities to explain instances of bias in the judiciary and to point out its negative impacts.
“More often it’s unconsciously, but sometimes consciously and mean spiritedly as a result of preconceived notions and biases, excluding people because of perceived differences and treating them as others,” said D’Emic. “I want to encourage you to listen openly and not think of any of this as us against them. I think we all recognize that we live in an angry moment in history and that manner of thinking fuels that.
“There isn’t anyone in this room who is consciously seeking to harm or discriminate,” D’Emic continued. “That’s what I mean when I say that we’ve already done a lot. This conversation is meant to bring us further along that path while also recognizing that there is a lot more to be done.”
D’Emic asked everyone in the audience to listen to his lecture with an open mind and pointed out that the first step to eliminating implicit bias is by recognizing it. He explained that diversity is important because it would make them all better judges and attorneys and used his work with the commission to Close Rikers Island as an example of when having a diverse team helped.
“There were 27 commissioners from all backgrounds, diverse by gender, race, religion, culture and every other way,” D’Emic said. “We benefited from this diverse decision making because it exposed us to different thoughts, ideas and ways of thinking.
“Eventually we came to a unanimous conclusion that Rikers Island had to be closed,” D’Emic continued. “We respected each other and I know the diversity gave the commission credibility.”
The judge said that the biggest potential pitfall of lack of diversity and bias is exclusion.
“That’s where the injustice and unfairness really lies,” he said. “Is it right to deny someone an opportunity because of reference to a stereotype, superficial analysis, to judge by appearance and not character?”
The Bay Ridge Lawyers have just one monthly continuing legal education meeting left on May 30 featuring Nancy Sunshine, county clerk and commissioner of jurors, who will discuss e-filing. Afterward, the group will host its annual dinner where it will honor outgoing President Margaret Stanton. That dinner will take place on June 22nd at Casa Belvedere in Staten Island.
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