Activities

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VOIR DIRE PROCESS

In 2003, the Judicial Council adopted the advisory committee's proposal to amend sections 8 and 8.5 of the California Standards of Judicial Administration and form MC-001 (Juror Questionnaire for Civil Cases), effective January 1, 2004. The Standards and form MC-001 are amended to improve the voir dire process and to address issues of domestic partnership and sexual orientation that may arise during voir dire. The advisory committee's consensus is that the current query about marital status does not inform the court and the lawyers of the full range of influence from significant personal relationships that may impact a juror's opinion. The existing language fails to recognize the existence of domestic partnerships and committed same-sex couples. The amendments to sections 8 and 8.5 of the California Standards of Judicial Administration and corresponding revisions to MC-001 not only achieve the goal of voir dire by eliciting complete information from all jurors but also alleviate any perception of bias on the part of the court against gay and lesbian court users.

In 1998 the Access and Fairness Advisory Committee's Sexual Orientation Fairness Subcommittee began developing a survey to examine fairness and sexual orientation in the California courts-the first survey of its kind in the country. The survey was conducted in recognition of the need to ensure fairness for gay men and lesbians who are involved with California's court system as judges, attorneys, court users, and court employees. The subcommittee presented its final report, Sexual Orientation Fairness in the California Courts, containing the survey findings and the subcommittee's recommendations to the Judicial Council, in January 2001. At that time, the council unanimously accepted the report and its 21 recommendations. One recommendation was that "[t]he advisory committee, in conjunction with other appropriate organizations, will develop sample questions for voir dire that appropriately address the issues of domestic partnership and sexual orientation." The amendments to sections 8 and 8.5 and revisions to form MC-001 provide suggested voir dire questions that address these concerns.


FAIRNESS EDUCATION IN THE LAW SCHOOLS

The advisory committee, in conjunction with the State Bar of California, is conducting a series of focus groups regarding fairness education in the law school curriculum and the law school environment. The goal of the focus groups is to determine the extent to which California law schools are engaged in training their students on matters of access and fairness and the success of those efforts. These discussions are providing law school administrators, faculty, and students, including students from the various diversity student bar organizations, student leaders, and students from diverse backgrounds, an opportunity to explore whether and the extent to which fairness issues are substantively addressed in the law school curriculum and the law school environment. After the committee has concluded conducting its sessions, the committee will submit a report of its findings and recommendations to the Judicial Council.


REPRESENTATIVE GRAND JURIES

In 2002, the advisory committee conducted focus groups with the California Grand Jurors Association (CGJA) and the Jury Education and Management Forum (JEM) to explore strategies and best practices for improving the representation of diverse communities on grand juries by examining issues such as recruitment, selection, jury management, and public education. In 2004, the committee disseminated a survey on the statistics on the demographic composition of grand juries to the superior courts. The purpose of the survey was to provide the committee with the data necessary to determine whether the 1991 amendment to Penal Code section 903.4 regarding impaneling a cross-section of the county population for grand jury service has resulted in more representative grand juries.

The committee is finalizing its preliminary report and recommendations for further investigation. The committee will eventually submit a final report and recommendations to the Judicial Council for its adoption.


SEXUAL ORIENTATION FAIRNESS IN THE CALIFORNIA COURTS

As charged by the Judicial Council, the advisory committee's Sexual Orientation Fairness Subcommittee conducted a comprehensive study of how, if at all, bias based on sexual orientation affects the quality of justice in the California court system. The advisory committee is the first entity in the nation to undertake such an extensive study of sexual orientation fairness in a state court system.

The subcommittee began its study by conducting five focus group meetings involving legal professionals. Using information obtained from these focus groups, the subcommittee contracted with research consultants to develop two ground-breaking surveys, one for court users and one for court employees, to determine the extent to which certain key groups have experienced or witnessed sexual orientation bias based on their interactions with the court system. Based on the results of the survey, the subcommittee developed and submitted its final report to the Judicial Council.

At its January 2001 meeting, the Judicial Council accepted the advisory committee's report and charged the Sexual Orientation Fairness Subcommittee with implementing the recommendations contained in the report.

Final Report and Appendices 

WOMEN OF COLOR AND THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

In May 2000, the Access and Fairness Advisory Committee, in conjunction with the Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER), presented a statewide conference on women of color and the justice system, The New Millennium: Women of Color as Court Leaders and Managers. The two-day conference, as part of the Continuing Judicial Studies Program, offered a unique opportunity for women of color and other interested persons, women and men, to come together to discuss the emerging role of women of color as leaders and managers in the California courts. The advisory committee conducted this conference as a follow-up to its two roundtable discussions on issues affecting women of color held in 1998.

Based on the success of the statewide conference and positive feedback received from the participants, the committee is planning for a regional conference to take place in 2007.

One of the issues discussed during this conference was the value of being and having a mentor. At the conclusion of the conference, one of the recommendations of the participants was the creation of a mentoring program for court employees who are women of color. The committee formed a working group to develop a mentoring program for women of color in the courts. In October, the committee completed the first stage of the project by finalizing a participant handbook and a brochure/application. The next step is for the committee to work with the Education Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts to develop an implementation plan for the program.

Many of the participants expressed an interest in maintaining the dialogue regarding issues discussed at the conference. As a result, the subcommittee decided to develop a website dedicated to issues affecting women of color that can be utilized, not only as a means for the participants to share information, but also to share this information with others who work in the courts and those who are otherwise involved with the judicial system.

Full Report
"Women of Color in the Courts"
Article from the July-August 2000 issue of Court News

NATIVE AMERICAN LEGAL ISSUES

As part of its implementation plan to enhance fairness in the courts, the committee conducted a series of roundtable discussions among committee members and individuals interested in legal issues affecting Native Americans. The first roundtable served to identify the issues that were most compelling to the participants. These issues included Public Law 280, ICWA, family law, environmental law, criminal sentencing alternatives, and the development of tribal courts. Following the first roundtable in September 1996, the committee organized a conference in April 1998 to continue the committee's study of fair access to the courts for Native Americans by promoting coordination among state and tribal courts and tribal communities.

The committee held another roundtable in August 1999 on the reservation of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation to continue the dialogue on the issues identified at the first roundtable. Participants included state court judges, tribal court judges, tribal representatives, a legislative representative, Indian resource consultants, and other interested persons.

These three discussions resulted in several recommendations to the Access and Fairness Advisory Committee.

In 2003, the advisory committee completed the production of its publication Native American Resource Guide for Bench Officers. The information and resources in the guide help provide state and tribal justice systems greater access to, and understanding of, each other. A draft of the guide was introduced at the 2001 Statewide Conference on Race and Ethnic Bias in the Courts and, in August, the final version was reviewed and accepted by CJER's Director for use in CJER's fairness curricula for judicial officers. Upon approval by the Administrative Director of the Courts, CJER plans to integrate the guide in existing fairness curricula and in existing fairness programs (such as those at the Continuing Judicial Studies Program) and distribute it to judges participating in those courses. In addition, the guide will initially be distributed to presiding judges in courts located in Indian country.

Full Report 


FOCUS GROUPS ON GENDER FAIRNESS

In the early 1990s, the Advisory Committee on Gender Bias in the Courts conducted several focus groups. The data gathered helped the advisory committee to begin defining the issues surrounding gender inequity in the California courts. In November 1990, the Judicial Council unanimously adopted a comprehensive set of recommendations contained in a draft report by the Advisory Committee on Gender Bias in the Courts designed to ensure gender fairness in the state courts of California. The draft report was the culmination of three years of hard work by the advisory committee. Since 1990, significant progress has been made to implement the 68 recommendations contained in that report, which were adopted by the Judicial Council. In 1994, when the Access and Fairness Advisory Committee was appointed, its Gender Fairness Subcommittee was charged with continuing the implementation of the recommendations of its successor committee.

In September 2000, the subcommittee determined that it was an appropriate time to conduct new focus groups in order to discuss the changes that resulted from the implemented recommendations and to propose follow-up efforts. The subcommittee targeted participants from the original discussion groups and other representatives from the legal community. Participants had the opportunity to identify accomplishments, discuss areas that still needed to be addressed, discuss how the Judicial Council should proceed, and draft recommendations to the advisory committee.


FAIRNESS TRAINING VIDEO

In November 2002, the advisory committee completed the development of a educational video that will be primarily used by the Education Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) in the training of judicial officers and court staff, but also by the committee in its programs, training sessions, and conferences. The committee also intends for the video to supplement fairness training programs of the Judicial Administration Institute of California (JAIC), the State Bar of California, bar associations, and in formal fairness training conducted by staff trainers of the courts. The Center is developing educational curricula for use with the video. The fairness video focuses on three areas: gender fairness, racial and ethnic fairness, and sexual orientation fairness. Using a carefully prepared script that is based on testimony from public hearings and interviews with court staff, the video utilizes vignettes set in various areas of the courthouse that include interactions between court staff, between judges, and between attorneys. The video also includes a vignette exploring the challenges relating to jury voir dire and domestic partnership issues. In 2004, the committee and the Education Division of the AOC created a user guide and a faculty development course to support experienced fairness faculty wishing to teach fairness in a substantive manner using the video.


OTHER COMPLETED PROJECTS

  • In collaboration with the California Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER), developed a curriculum for court personnel entitled Persons with Disabilities: Access to the Courts that covers state and federal requirements for court access and accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and rule 989.3 of the California Rules of Court;
  • Developed a survey that was sent to various California law schools to acquire information on their recruitment programs and retention rates of minority students to gain a better understanding of how students are recruited into law schools;
  • Produced an educational video, Obstacle Courts, on access to the courts for persons with disabilities;
  • Conducted a case study and juror survey designed to determine whether or not racial and/or ethnic bias had any systematic influence upon the outcome of jury trials in California superior courts;
  • Distributed Q & A newsletters for court staff and the public on Rule 989.3 of the California Rules of Court, which outlines the procedural mechanism for responding to requests for accommodation by court users, that provide responses to the most frequently asked questions about accommodations in the courts;
  • Drafted a new rule, new standards, and an amended standard, which were approved by the Judicial Council, intended to promote nondiscrimination in: (1) the appointment of attorneys, arbitrators, mediators, referees, masters, receivers, and others appointed by the court in family, probate, and other civil cases; (2) the appointment of attorneys and others in criminal and juvenile matters; and (3) the selection of members for court-related committees;
  • With the assistance of the Orange County Bar Association's Gender Equity Committee, produced the booklet Guidelines for Lawyers: Eliminating Gender Bias in the Legal Profession. This booklet was prepared as an educational product for lawyers to provide them with guidelines on the fair treatment of and appropriate courtroom behavior toward judges, opposing counsel, court employees, clients, witnesses, litigants, jurors, and others involved in the court process;
  • Produced a pamphlet to provide information on general etiquette when interacting with persons with disabilities;
  • In conjunction with the Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER), developed a pilot curriculum on sexual orientation fairness and preventing sexual harassment; and
  • In conjunction with the Task Force on Jury System Improvements drafted standard language for the jury summons on how persons with disabilities request accommodations; and
  • To comply with section 54.8 of the California Civil Code, developed recommended language for court signage and judicial council forms for notifying the deaf and hard of hearing of the availability of assistive listening systems and communication access real time translation (CART) reporting.

OTHER CURRENT PROJECTS

  • Implementing the recommendations from its predecessor committees, the Advisory Committee on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Courts and the Advisory Committee on Gender Bias in the Courts, and from the Sexual Orientation Fairness Subcommittee's final report.
  • Evaluating the status of the courts' local fairness committees and developing a statewide model for use by the courts;
  • Planning a regional conference on Women of Color in the Justice System as a follow-up to the 2000 statewide conference;
  • Developing a demographic survey of the courts, designed to assess workplace diversity;
  • Reviewing Rule 989.3 of the California Rules of Court (Requests for Accommodations for Persons With Disabilities), to determine if any modifications are necessary and will submit its proposed amendments, if any, to the Judicial Council for adoption.
  • In collaboration with CJER, planning two educational programs regarding racial disparity in the criminal justice system, nationally and statewide, for court managers, judicial officers and attorneys, and assembling a task force of judicial officers, district attorneys, public defenders, law enforcement representatives and others, as appropriate, to plan a criminal justice summit in 2006 where strategies for addressing racial disparities would be developed for each area of the criminal justice system.
  • Consulting with CJER in developing methods to include sexual orientation diversity issues in the orientation programs for judges with new, specific-subject-matter assignments, including, but not limited to, criminal, family, juvenile, and probate.
  • To comply with section 54.8 of the California Civil Code, developing a system for courts to report to the Judicial Council regarding usage of these systems as required by the code.
  • Developing methods of informing judicial officers of the Judicial Council's revisions to sections 8 and 8.5 of the Standards of Judicial Administration and the juror questionnaire to appropriately address the issues of domestic partnership and sexual orientation.
  • Developing a Q&A pamphlet for judicial officers informing them of the significant changes in the rights and responsibilities of domestic partners.
  • Collaborating with CJER to develop training for judicial officers to identify and eliminate bias or unfairness in the courts affecting transgender persons and submit recommendations to the Judicial Council, if appropriate.
  • Consulting with the State Bar and CJER to evaluate the JNE Commission appointment process in terms of bias issues identified by newly-appointed judicial officers and develop proposal for and implement fairness training for commissioners involved in the process, if they desire training.

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