Chief Justice to name task force to consider steps to implement recommendations.
A statewide commission charged with reviewing racial fairness in Ohio’s legal system today issued 67 recommendations aimed at addressing its findings of a disparity in perceptions between white and minority citizens.
The Ohio Commission on Racial Fairness citing the need for "a leap of action" called for changes in the areas of perceptions in the legal profession, court employment, juries, criminal justice, law schools and interpreter services.
The 33-member commission, sponsored by the Ohio State Bar Association and the Supreme Court, issued its report at a news conference Wednesday.
Chief Justice Thomas Moyer said he would move forward with the commission’s first recommendation to appoint a small task force to advise the court and others to develop a working plan to consider and implement the recommendations.
"The task force’s primary objective will be to review the recommendations and draft strategies to build trust throughout the legal system," Moyer said.
The task force will include judges, attorneys, law school representatives and lay citizens. Moyer expects to name the members in February.
Thomas Bonasera, OSBA president and commission member, said the organization will conduct a conference that focuses on increasing racial diversity in the legal profession. The conference, scheduled for February 22, will highlight innovative approaches for increasing minority attendance in law schools and entry in the profession.
"The OSBA's Open Doors conference -- similarly to the Commission's report -- should serve as a springboard to address diversity in the legal profession," Bonasera said. "Our focus now must be on moving forward with specific actions that will benefit the public we serve. The Commission's report has the potential to serve as a benchmark for our progress."
Cuyahoga County Judge Ronald Adrine, commission chair, said the panel’s findings and recommendations are based on 12 public hearings held at 10 sites throughout the state. He said members also conducted surveys, focus groups and closely reviewed findings of racial fairness commissions in other states.
"Many of the perception issues that exist in Ohio are also present in states across the country," Adrine said.
In addition to calling for an implementation task force, other key commission recommendations include:
- Diversity training should be incorporated into required continuing legal education.
- Ohio courts, starting with the Supreme Court, should recruit, hire and retain increased numbers of minorities in positions throughout the system, especially middle- and senior-management and policy-making positions.
- The Supreme Court should require all courts to complete and file an annual statistical report on race and gender of employees.
- The Attorney General should establish a position with legal responsibility to bring lawsuits against individuals and agencies that discriminate or harass minorities.
- Determine the pattern of minority representation of juries in Ohio courts.
- Statistical data as to race should be maintained for sentences, including community-based sentences, in all criminal cases, including misdemeanor, juvenile and traffic cases.
- Law enforcement agencies should maintain statistical data as to race in connection with all arrests.
- Law schools should give priority to efforts to recruit and retain minority students. The commission strongly supports and encourages affirmative action and diversity programs that attract and retain minority students and staff.
- The Supreme Court should collect racial and ethnic information on bar examination candidates and monitor the results for race-based discrepancies.
- The Supreme Court should conduct a statewide survey to determine the language needs of non-English speaking participants in court proceedings.
- The Supreme Court should develop specific guidelines for qualification and certification of individuals who provide interpreter services in court proceedings.
Contacts: Jeri Grier, Ohio State Bar Association, 614.487.2050
Jay Wuebbold/Ali Randall, Supreme Court, 614.466.0674