--New Court Commission to Explore Racial and Ethnic Equality--
Although many strides have been made in the area of gender equality in the last decade, incidents of gender bias persist in Maryland's court system, and perceptions of racial and ethnic bias have surfaced. According to a new Bar/Bench study, many of the court system's existing gender bias problems have been eliminated, through educational programs, judicial training, new legislation and other corrective measures. Yet, problems of gender, racial and ethnic bias still exist in the state's judicial system, so Maryland's Judiciary and the Maryland State Bar Association are implementing new measures to promote equality and eliminate bias.
Growing concerns over racial and ethnic bias in Maryland's court system have prompted the Honorable Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, to create a new court Commission on Racial and Ethnicity Fairness in the Judicial Process. This new Commission, which will be chaired by Judge Dale Cathell of the Court of Appeals, will examine racial and ethnicity problems and perceptions cited in the Select Committee on Gender Equality's "2001 Retrospective Report."
"It is imperative that our legal system operate without bias of any kind, and be perceived as dispensing justice fairly and equitably," states Bell. "Working together, the Bench and Bar have responded effectively to gender fairness issues. Now, we will begin to look more closely at issues of racial and ethnic equality."
When a Bar/Bench study uncovered widespread gender bias in Maryland's court system in 1989, the Bar and the Bench immediately created the Select Committee on Gender Equality to address these concerns. Over the last decade, education, awareness, new laws, Bar/Bench civility codes, professionalism courses and judicial training programs have sensitized judges, attorneys, litigants and court personnel to gender bias issues and fostered a greater awareness of attitudes, behaviors and perceptions that promote equality.
The Maryland State Bar Association's President, Pamela J. White, attributes most of the advancements in gender equality to the comprehensive educational campaign undertaken by the Select Committee on Gender Equality. When this Committee conducted a "follow-up" poll in 2000, it identified continuing concerns of gender bias problems in attitudes, perceptions and experiences. In its 2001 Retrospective Report, the Committee offers new recommendations to eliminate barriers to gender equality.
The Bar and the Bench will continue to champion gender equality in our state's court system by examining and implementing the report's recommendations. "Because justice matters, because lawyers and judges must serve justice for all citizens, and because gender bias ‘erodes confidence in the impartiality of the judicial system,’ the Maryland State Bar Association will join Maryland's Judiciary in its quest to eliminate bias and renew public confidence in the system," pledges MSBA's President.
When the 2000 "follow-up" poll was conducted, Bell requested the inclusion of questions assessing racial and ethnic fairness in the legal system. "The Conference of Chief Justices passed a resolution urging every state court to ensure gender equality, and Maryland heeded the call," Bell adds. "The Conference passed a similar resolution with regard to racial and ethnic fairness."
"Results from the national conference on public trust and confidence in the justice system and Maryland’s own public survey report that perceptions of inequality are prevalent," asserts the Chief Judge. "With the strong commitment of MSBA's President to eliminate bias in the legal system, the time is right for us to expand our efforts."