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Current news articles pertaining to diversity and racial justice in the state courts.
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Utah courts dig in on initiatives to make the justice system more fair, Oct 4, 2021

Utah's court system is rolling out new initiatives to recalibrate the scales of justice, aiming to root out bias and inform as many people as possible about the types of free legal help available — ahead of the moment they speak to a judge.

"We recognize that a lot of people, especially people from diverse and historically marginalized communities, do not have the best impression of the courts, and that is completely valid," said Valeria Jimenez, public outreach coordinator for the new Office of Fairness and Accountability in the state courts system. "We want to address those perceptions and really build that trust, but we don't want to do it in a way where we're going in and telling them what to do."

New Jersey Supreme Court issues progress report on court system racial disparities

News 12, Aug 25, 2021

New Jersey’s Supreme Court has released a progress report on the state judiciary’s efforts to address racial disparities in the court system.  The Wednesday update follows up on a plan announced last year in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

The plan identified nine areas of focus set forth in the 2020 action plan. Those focuses include: Supporting juror impartiality, reducing timeframes for post-dispositional supervision, supporting juvenile rehabilitation, requiring anti-bias continuing legal education, using technology to improve opportunities to access expungement resources, enabling alternative methods of resolving municipal court matters, broadening language access resources, reexamining access to misused court records and improving the landlord-tenant process.

Courts call on Rhode Islanders to contemplate what justice looks like in new campaign

The Providence Journal, June 30, 2021.

The state judiciary is inviting Rhode Islanders to ponder what justice looks like to them in a new campaign aimed at sparking what promise to be difficult conversations about the role courts have played in systemic racism.

“Our goal is to make sure our house is in order,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell said Wednesday in the blazing heat outside the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority headquarters on Elmwood Avenue.

Del. Courts Unveil Diversity Initiative

Delaware is looking to make progress with diversity in the courts.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins Seitz Junior Monday announced the Delaware Bench and Bar Diversity Project. A steering committee of judicial officers, individuals and organizations will lead efforts to build and sustain a more diverse bench and bar. The project was launched in collaboration with the National Center for State Courts and AccessLex Institute.

NY: Court System Proceeds with Implementation of Proposals Made by Special Adviser on Equal Justice in the Courts

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks today provided an update on numerous steps being taken by the Unified Court System (UCS)in carrying out the recommendations of the Special Adviser on Equal Justice in the Courts.

State court leaders launch national initiative to improve racial equity in the justice system

Williamsburg, Va. (May 10, 2021) – The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), with support of the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), have launched a national initiative –the Blueprint for Racial Justice –to take immediate and recognizable steps toward improving racial justice, equity and inclusion in the justice system. The Blueprint’s goal is to ensure that all court users, litigants, and community members across the country are heard, listened to, and respected by the nation’s justice system.

CO:  Black and Hispanic people face “persistent set of disadvantages” in Denver courts, study of prosecutor data finds

The Denver Post, April 7, 2021

Black and Hispanic people charged with felonies in Denver face “a persistent set of disadvantages” compared to their white peers, according to a study of decisions made by the Denver District Attorney’s Office.

The study, released Wednesday, found that white people facing drug charges were more likely than Black or Hispanic people to be referred to drug court programs and that white defendants were twice as likely as Black or Hispanic people to have their case deferred. Case deferrals allow a defendant a chance to have charges or their entire case dismissed if they meet certain requirements."

RI:  Improving data collection, reforming fines seen as keys to making RI courts more fair

The Providence Journal, April 5, 2021

PROVIDENCE — Last June, the state Supreme Court condemned the “wanton and violent deaths of young Black lives” and vowed to take steps to ensure that equal justice is in reach of all Rhode Islanders regardless of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

With that, Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell established a Committee on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in Rhode Island courts, to be led by newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Melissa A. Long.

IL: Gov. Pritzker Signs Illinois Criminal Justice Reform Bill Into Law

CBSN Chicago, February 22, 2021

CHICAGO (CBS) — Gov. JB Pritzker signed a new criminal justice reform bill into law on Monday.

In a news release, Pritzker called HB 3653 “landmark legislation,” and touted that it “ends a pretrial detention system that benefits the wealthy, expands training and wellness programs for law enforcement, modernizes sentencing laws, and prioritizes treatment and rehabilitation for low-level drug crimes.”

Racial Justice Roundtable featuring Dr. Robert Livingston

Free webinar hosted by The National Judicial College and The National Center for State Courts
February 25, 2021  |  Noon-2 p.m. PST

Hawaii State Judiciary News Release: Confronting Racial Injustice: Black Lives Matter and the Hawaii Experience

Latest News, Newroom, January 13th, 2021

Series of five Zoom Webinars about achieving racial equity in Hawaii. The kick-off event is Black Lives Matter and the Hawaii Experience.

UT: Director appointed for new office of fairness and accountability

EIN Presswire, January 9th, 2021

Salt Lake City, UT— Following a nationwide search, Jonathan Puente has been appointed as director of the new Office of Fairness and Accountability. “We are delighted that Jon Puente has joined the Administrative Office of the Courts. Jon’s unique combination of professional experience and personal passion to eradicate bias and racism makes him a perfect fit to lead the Office of Fairness and Accountability,” said State Court Administrator, Judge Mary T. Noonan.

NY: Independent review details institutional racism throughout New York's court system

Queens Daily Eagle, October 15th, 2020

An independent commission tasked with examining institutional racism in the New York State court system released a landmark report Thursday detailing racial and ethnic disparities on the bench, a failure to prioritize diversity in hiring and even a “culture of toxicity” among court officers statewide.

The Equal Justice in the Courts task force, led by former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, was a four-month project commissioned by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore in June, amid nationwide demonstrations against institutional racism touched off by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Illinois Supreme Court Hires Deanie Brown as Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer

Illinois State Bar Association, September 25th, 2020

The Illinois Supreme Court and Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC) today announced the hiring of Deanie Brown as the Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer (CDIO), a senior level position reporting to the AOIC Director. Her first day will be November 2, 2020.

OH Chief Justice: Virtual courtrooms, broken barriers the future of justice

Ohio Capital Journal, September 14th, 2020

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said that change is coming in the form of safety measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic and rethinking the justice system in light of nationwide civil unrest.  “Society’s problems are laid at our doorstep, and rightfully so,” O’Connor said in her recent State of the Judiciary address to the Ohio Judicial Conference annual meeting.

...On the theme of the conference, acknowledging the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, she spoke of the protests that led to the passage of the law that gave women the right to vote. She also brought up the protests spawned by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, but said the resentment felt by the protesters “is not the result of that one incident alone.”

Detroit Free Press, September 12th, 2020

Citizens armed with data can open a path for change. We formed Citizens for Racial Equity in Washtenaw (CREW) to study data on charging and sentencing decisions in our county’s criminal legal system to see whether racial disparities existed.

When we began our work, we had hoped to find annual reports publishing data related to these decisions from the Washtenaw County Court and the prosecutor.

Judicial Friends releases report on institutional racism in court system

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 11th, 2020

An influential group of Black New York judges has released a 161-page report on institutional racism in the state court system, highlighting racial disparities in judicial leadership, detailing the impediments to equal justice for Black and Latino defendants and making recommendations for addressing pervasive biases.

The Judicial Friends Association submitted their report to the state court system’s Commission on Equal Justice in the Courts Aug. 31. The commission, led by former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, was formed to address systemic bias in the wake of nationwide demonstrations against police violence.

Researchers find racial disparities across court system

ABC News, September 9th, 2020

Black and Latino defendants in Massachusetts are more likely than white defendants to be locked up for drug and weapons offenses and get longer sentences than white people sent to prison for similar crimes, researchers at Harvard Law School said in a report released Wednesday.

Harvard researchers found significant racial disparities in the handling of weapons and drug cases, crimes they noted “carry longstanding racialized stigmas." The disparities remain even “after controlling for charge severity and additional factors,” according to the report from the law school's Criminal Justice Policy Program.

Rhode Island courts to form committee on racial justice

Associated Press, September 4th, 2020

The Rhode Island courts are creating a racial justice committee to ensure that everyone involved in the system — from defendants, victims, litigants, witnesses and the public — is treated equitably and fairly.

A steering committee has been established to form a Committee on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts. The steering committee is made up of active and retired judges from all levels of the state judiciary.

Edwin T. Bell joins NCSC in newly created position to address racial equity in the courts

Williamsburg, Va., September 1, 2020 – Edwin T. Bell, deputy court administrator for the Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit in Decatur, Georgia, is joining the National Center for State Courts as the Director of Racial Justice, Equity and Inclusion, a newly created position. He begins work in October.

NCSC established this position in support of a resolution adopted in July by the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) that pledges to make the courts more equitable for everyone.  The resolution recognizes that “too many persons, especially persons of color, lack confidence in the fairness of our courts and our criminal justice system.” Both CCJ and COSCA reaffirmed their commitment to intensifying “efforts to combat racial prejudice within the justice system, both explicit and implicit, and to recommit ourselves to examine what systemic change is needed to make equality under the law an enduring reality for all, so that the justice we provide not only is fair to all but also is recognized by all to be fair.”

TN: Plan seeks to reduce racial disparities in Tennessee courts

Chattanooga Times, August 1st, 2020

The Tennessee Supreme Court has released a plan to reduce racial disparities in the state's judicial system.  The court's Access to Justice Commission released a two-year plan Thursday to reduce discrimination and racial disparities.

NM: Supreme Court forming Commission on Equity and Justice

July 30th, 2020

Supreme Court of New Mexico announced the establishment of a commission to study issues related to race and bias in the state’s justice system and promote diversity among judges and judicial employees.  The commission’s work will include “analysis of data, education for judges and court staff regarding implicit bias, the creation and improvement of court policies relating to diversity and inclusion, and a commitment to nominate more diverse individuals to serve on the bench,” the Court said.

NJ: Action Plan for Ensuring Equal Justice

July 16th, 2020

The New Jersey Supreme Court outlined a series of reforms it will seek to accomplish within the next year in order to eliminate disparities within the court system and remove institutional obstacles to justice.  The Action Plan for Ensuring Equal Justice comes just over a month after a June 5 statement from the state Supreme Court in which the Court renewed its commitment to “answer the challenge of ensuring that all men and women, especially people of color, are offered the same opportunity and treatment by the court system.”

UT: New court office will track racial and other inequities in Utah's justice system

Standard Examiner, July 14th, 2020

The state court system has set up a new accountability arm, responding to persistent data showing minority defendants are treated comparatively harshly in Utah.  Creation of the Office of Fairness and Accountability also stems from the nationwide social justice movement triggered by the death of George Floyd beneath a Minneapolis police officer’s knee May 25, a court spokesperson said Tuesday.

NY: NY judges of color commit to racial equity in courts

Olean Times Herald, July 13th, 2020

Judges of color from across the state have signed a letter saying that there is much work to be done to ensure racial equity in the courts, and they are committed to just treatment for all.  More than 100 judges signed the letter, which stated in part: “Each day we seek to dispel any narrative or belief that looks upon courts as instruments of injustice, by treating each person fairly and impartially while upholding our oaths to the constitutions of the State of New York and the United States.

NC: Cooper: N.C. Public Receptive to Ways to Address Racial Bias, July 10th, 2020

The North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, which includes judges, law enforcement officers, elected officials and civil rights advocates, held it's first meeting to tackle the problem of addressing systemic racial bias. Governor Roy Cooper has asked recommendations be submitted by December 1, 2020.

MD: Maryland Judiciary forms Committee on Equal Justice to address systemic inequalities

June 25th, 2020

The Committee on Equal Justice, which is part of the governance structure of the Judicial Council, will make recommendations on strategies to dismantle any discriminatory behaviors in all aspects of the Judiciary’s functions. The committee will identify necessary improvements, resources, and support services and develop educational opportunities for ongoing Judiciary-wide engagement in the pursuit of equal justice for all.