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Report documents progress made, efforts underway to advance equal justice in New York Courts

November 18, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Chief Judge Janet DiFiore this week announced the release of a detailed report documenting the enormous strides made over the past year — based on the recommendations of the Special Adviser on Equal Justice in the Courts — toward a court system that is a model of fairness, equity and inclusion. 

In June 2020, Chief Judge DiFiore appointed nationally respected attorney and former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson as special advisor on equal justice in the courts to conduct an independent, thorough review of Court System policies and practices as they relate to issues of racism, bias and disparate treatment. 

Four months later, Secretary Johnson issued a comprehensive report of findings—along with proposals for reform centered on issues within the court system’s authority to carry out administratively and unilaterally. 

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The chief judge then named Hon. Edwina G. Mendelson, deputy chief administrative judge for justice initiatives, to lead the courts’ day-to-day efforts to implement the Equal Justice recommendations. 

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. Courtesy of Dept. of Homeland Security

The report, titled “Equal Justice in the New York State Courts: 2021 Year in Review,” highlights dozens of reforms that have already been implemented or are underway or in the planning stages. During the past year, the court system has developed policy and programmatic initiatives that include: 

  • Amendment of Section 17.3 of the Rules of the Chief Judge to require that all state-paid judges receive regular anti-bias training. With the guidance of experts, judicial summer seminar trainings will offer judges the opportunity to address issues of racial bias and cultural sensitivity among their peers. 
  • Mandatory bias education and training for all court system non-judicial personnel. The new centralized training program will include specially tailored instruction on recognizing and interpreting implicit racial bias. Training will begin in early 2022 and will be designed to track compliance. Training has already been provided to top court leaders. 
  •  Mandatory bias education and training for Town and Village judges and non-judicial personnel. All Town and Village Court judges and staff will be required to participate in the court system’s new centralized anti-bias education and training program. 
  • Implementation of new policies and protocols expressly designed for court officers and other uniformed personnel, such as specialized anti-bias training, the requirement of name tags, and a designated community affairs officer to be assigned at every courthouse. 
  • Enhanced data transparency, including a suite of publicly available technological tools, with demographic data on court system judges and non-judicial employees, as well as on defendants in criminal matters. 
  • Expanded diversity initiatives, including development of extensive educational materials on interviewing, civil service examinations and the hiring process, all available on the court system’s public website.

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