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NYS Courts announce independent review of court policies and institutional racism

June 12, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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In an effort to ensure equal justice for all New Yorkers, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced this week that the court system that it will undergo an independent review of its practices regarding institutional racism.

Led by Jeh Johnson, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, and former U.S. secretary of Homeland Security and general counsel for the Department of Defense during the Obama Administration, the review is expected to do an in-depth evaluation of the entire court system.

“The death of George Floyd, and the issues it has brought into harsh focus, are a painful reminder of the repeated injustices and institutional racism that have long undermined the values and unity of our nation,” Chief Judge DiFiore said.

“The court system’s commitment to these values is especially vital,” DiFiore continued. “Their preservation is a cornerstone of the rule of law, the subject of sacred oaths taken by all judges and lawyers, and the daily endeavors of the thousands of court employees around the State who work tirelessly to advance the cause of justice.”

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Johnson will take on the role of special adviser on Equal Justice in the Courts.

Among many issues, Johnson is expected to review statewide policy and will make recommendations on revision or expansion of practices. He will also review the structure of the court system and the effectiveness of the organizations that operate within it and will make recommendations as necessary.

Particular attention will be paid to biased education and training practices of judges and non-judicial personnel so ensure the court employees understand the challenges of racial justice. Johnson will also be asked to review selection and appointment processes and will review all court policies and programs to ensure they are free of bias.

“I am immensely grateful to Jeh Johnson, for graciously volunteering to lead this independent review of the court system’s policies, practices, rules and programs as they relate to issues of racial or other bias,” Chief Judge DiFiore said. “He brings a wealth of talent and expertise to this comprehensive evaluation, which will serve as a valuable tool in furthering diversity and inclusion within the New York State court system and ensuring equal justice under the law.”

Johnson, the chair of the judiciary committee at the NYC Bar Association, will be assisted by Hon. Troy Webber and Hon. Shirley Troutman, co-chairs of the Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission on racial justice. Their recommendations are expected to be issued by October.

“Above all else, we depend upon the courts as the place where equal justice before the law is guaranteed,” Johnson said. “This is an important assignment, and I will answer the call with energy and dedication.”

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