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Court of Appeals Judge Paul Feinman to lead task force on racial disparities in the justice system

June 15, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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A task force designed to study the racial disparity in the New York State criminal justice system has a new leader as Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced on Thursday that Court of Appeals Judge Paul Feinman will head the NYS Justice Task Force.

The task force was created in 2009 by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman as one of the first permanent task forces to look into wrongful convictions.

It is made up of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and other law enforcement officials. Chief Judge DiFiore was a co-chair of the task force in 2017 when it was announced that its mission would go beyond wrongful convictions to include issues related to bail and speedy trial.

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“I commend the Justice Task Force members for their efforts in taking on some of the most difficult and pressing issues facing New York’s criminal justice system,” Chief Judge DiFiore said. “Institutional racism is perhaps the most significant and complex issue the Task Force has ever had to consider. The importance of tackling it head-on cannot be understated, particularly at this critical moment in our nation’s history,”

Justice Feinman is from Hempstead, N.Y. and is a graduate of Columbia University and the University of Minnesota Law School. A former Legal Aid attorney, he also clerked for Justice Angela Mazzarelli prior to being elected to the Manhattan Civil Court in 1996.

Justice Feinman was elevated to acting Supreme Court justice in 2004 and then elected to that court in 2007. Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed him to the Appellate Division, First Judicial Department in 2012 and then nominated him to the Court of Appeals in 2017 before he was unanimously confirmed.

Joy Thompson, president of the Women’s Bar Association for the State of New York, said she was thrilled with the appointment of Justice Paul Feinman. Photo: Rob Abruzzese/Brooklyn Eagle

“I am so pleased that Judge Feinman has accepted this appointment to lead the Task Force in this and other endeavors as it carries out its vital mission,” Chief Judge DiFiore said. “I have utmost confidence that under his stewardship, the Task Force will rise to the challenge and conduct a meaningful, thorough analysis of these issues. I look forward to the Task Force’s conclusions and recommendations as we work together to advance the cause of justice.”

The task force has been responsible for numerous statutory changes to the procedures used to conduct eyewitness identifications and interrogations. It has recently been directed by Chief Judge DiFiore to turn its attention to the examination of racial disparities in the criminal justice system at all stages of the process.

Joy Thompson, president of the Women’s Bar Association for the State of New York (WBASNY), was thrilled to hear that a member of her organization was picked to lead the task force.

“On behalf of the more than 4,000 members of WBASNY, I applaud Chief Judge Janet DiFiore for tapping the Hon. Paul G. Feinman to lead the New York State Justice Task Force,” Thompson said. “An esteemed member of WBASNY’s New York Chapter, Judge Feinman has distinguished himself as a champion of diversity and the fair and equal administration of justice throughout his career.

“Indeed, the goals of the Task Force are consistent with WBASNY’s mission,” Thompson continued. “I commend the Task Force for its ongoing efforts to address racial disparities in New York’s criminal justice system and ensure the fair and equal administration of justice for all.”

Justice Feinman is active in many local bar associations in addition to WBASNY, including the Association of Supreme Court Justices of the State of New York, the International Association of LGBT Judges, LeGal and the LGBT Bar of Greater New York, all of which he served as president for. He was also the presiding member of the Judicial Section of the NYS Bar Association.

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