Senator Thompson To Hold Forum On Judicial Diversity

Antoine M Thompson

March 19, 2007

New York court benches. Lawmakers hope public input will aid in the design of a plan to improve existing opportunities for meaningful diversity in the state’s courts after years of inaction on this issue.

“Despite today's opportunity to bring about real change in the makeup of our judiciary, we have a whole history of racial and gender underrepresentation to contend with,” Senator Thompson said, noting that during 12 years in office, Governor George Pataki did not once nominate an ethnic minority candidate to the state's highest court – the Court of Appeals – despite opportunities to do so.

“The Court of Appeals is the final authority for many of the court cases initiated in New York, rendering decisions that ultimately affect the lives of everyone in the state,” Senator Thompson said. “With the exception of one Hispanic judge, however, the Court of Appeals, our state's highest tribunal, is comprised solely of white men, seriously calling into question whether the court can reasonably represent the interests of all New Yorkers.”

“Yet it isn't just New York's highest court that lacks diversity,” added Senator Thompson, noting that of the 55 judges serving the Appellate Court, only nine are women, two are African American and two are Hispanic.

“With such top-to-bottom disparity, there is a limited base for keeping a diverse pool of qualified judge candidates in circulation throughout the multiple tiers of our court system, considering that lower-court jurists are typically among the top picks for openings on the upper rungs of the judicial ladder,” he said.

The hearings, which began late last year, aren't the first time public officials have raised a red flag about this issue. Fifteen years ago, Governor Mario Cuomo's Task Force on Minority Representation found that there was clear evidence of an extreme absence of diversity on the state's judiciary. It further found there was no shortage of well-qualified minority and women candidates to explain this lack of diversity.

Testifying panelists on Friday will include Leonard Lenihan, Chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee; Rochester City Court Judge Roy W. King; Betty Calvo-Torres, President of the WNY Minority Bar Association; Erie County Judge Shirley Troutman; Buffalo City Court Judge James A. McLeod, and David Edmonds, Counsel to the NYS Committee on Professional Standards, 4th Dept., among others.

WHO: Hon. Antoine M. Thompson, NYS Senator, 60th District & Hon. William Stachowski, NYS Senator, 58th District (Co-Chairs)

WHAT: Public Forum on Judicial Diversity,

WHEN: Friday, March 23, 2007 at 10:00am

WHERE: ErieCountyCourthouse Ceremonial Courtroom Part 1,

92 Franklin St.

, 2nd Floor, Buffalo, NY

WHY: To seek comments and suggestions in a round-table discussion on improving the gender and racial representation on the appointive benches of New YorkState's courts.

THIS EVENT IS FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />