‘Offensive’ shirts deflects understaffed court officers issue
Large white text on a navy shirt worn by dozens of court officers from across the city during a protest outside an event in October invoked “ethnic stereotypes,” wrote Chief Judge Janet DiFiore in a letter to the court officer union’s president.
Members of the New York State Court Officers Association (NYSCOA) conducted protests across the city to address the understaffing of courthouses and the unsafe conditions they undergo every day.
“Public airing of workplace grievances is of course acceptable, permitted and encouraged. However, by any conceivable standard of conduct applicable to court employees, the use of ethnic stereotypes is completely improper and unacceptable,” wrote Judge DiFiore in a letter to NYSCOA’s President Dennis Quirk on Oct. 29.
The court officers’ shirts, in a play on the Office of Court Administration (OCA) acronym, read “Organized Crime Association.”
DiFiore, who is the first Italian American to become the chief judge in the state, condemned their choice of words as “simply malicious and offensive.” DiFiore wrote “on behalf of the entire Italian-American community and the thousands of professional and dignified members of our court family.”
The commission co-chairpersons for the Franklin H. Williams Judicial Committee, Hon. Shirley Troutman and Hon. Troy K. Webber, also renounced the officers’ “inflammatory and offensive remarks” in a letter to Quirk on Oct. 31.
DiFiore and the judicial committee have asked for the union to apologize.
When other media outlets reported on the judge’s accusations, several supporters commented on the union’s social media account to shut down the claims.
“Offended? Really? what a joke. I’m not offended by a t-shirt. No apology necessary DQ (Dennis Quirk),” wrote Phil DiBlasi.
“I’m 100% Italian descent, all 4 of my grandparents came from Italy, I’m not offended and nobody speaks for me other than me!” wrote James Alfieri.
In response, Quirk collaborated with Patrick Cullen, the president of the state’s Supreme Court Officers Association, and they are standing by the chosen words.
“Instead of addressing the fact that staffing shortages delay trials and hearings, create dangerous conditions in courtrooms and corridors and that 60 officers are out on disability leave for injuries suffered in altercations on your watch, you chose to focus on a spurious claim that we are attacking Italian-Americans and you, personally,” wrote Quirk.
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for OCA, said DiFiore is supportive of the 4000 court officers who work in the “front line” of the state’s court system.
“We have been aware of and are addressing staffing numbers that are not where we would like them, even with the 600 officers that have been hired since she became the Chief Judge in January 2016. By next spring, along with the opening of a new Court Officer Academy, three new classes of recruits, totaling an additional 380 officers will be assigned to the courts,” said Chalfen in a statement.
The unions would rather the judge take action sooner than next spring.
“Until then, you should issue a directive stating that no judge should take the bench without proper staffing. Until you demonstrate with actions and not just words, your commitment to solving the security crisis we now face, we will continue our advocacy to make our court houses safer for both our members and the public,” wrote Quirk.
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