A newly created Rochester program — a collaboration between social justice activists and the courts — is designed to alert judges to possible biases implicit in their courtroom activities.
The judicial observation project, as it is called, is already in a trial period and has been in the planning for more than a year. Five judges volunteered to have observers in their courtrooms; observers are volunteers trained to identify moments of implicit bias.
“The project is not a panacea to fix all systemic issues, but it is a first step in bringing judges and community members together,” said Reverend Lewis Stewart, president of United Christian Leadership Ministry. , or UCLM, which helped create the project.
In an age of racial awareness, workplaces of all stripes are trying to combat implicit bias, moments of unconscious bias. In criminal justice systems, these instances of implicit bias can have significant consequences for the targets of harm.
Over the past year, the courts have taken steps to combat bias.
The state agency that runs the court system has created a video for prospective jurors. Similarly, federal courts have also used an implicit bias training video for jurors, but its use is not mandatory: for example, a Federal Court judge recently chose to show the video to jurors while another chose not to.
However, examining judges’ possible biases is a new approach, and organizers of the Judicial Monitoring Project say it’s the first of its kind in the state.
State Supreme Court Justice William Taylor, Regional Courts Administrative Judge, and other judges were involved in creating the project, as were the offices of the district attorney and public defender.
UCLM first submitted a proposal to the administrators of the regional court in December 2020. A working group spent the following year formulating the details of the project.
Already, 14 volunteers have received extensive training on the county’s implicit biases and have sat in more than 60 courtroom sessions with the five judges who have agreed to be the first set of lawyers shadowed. Among the judges are persons who preside over the State Supreme Court, County Court, City Court, and Family Court.
In a few weeks, the observers plan to present their findings to the judges. “The goal is to provide judges with what has been observed in the courtroom, both constructively critical and what has been observed as helpful,” an outline of the project reads.
City Court Judge Melissa Barrett, co-chair of the project, said judges strive to deliver justice fairly. “However, we recognize and acknowledge the challenges we have in our courts,” she said.
Continued: Video on ‘implied bias’ to be shown to potential jurors in George Moses trial
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Implicit Bias: New Judicial Program Will Have Observers Monitoring Judges