July 01, 2013

Letter to the Editor

In “Public Trust: Past, Present, Future,” from the spring 2013 issue of The Judges’ Journal, author Zelda DeBoyes describes a number of measures that courts should take to create and sustain an “environment of trust” in the courts. I do not disagree with anything Dr. DeBoyes says or suggests, but as chair of the Lawyers Conference Perceptions of Justice town hall in San Francisco three years ago, and one who attended several other such sessions, and, speaking for myself, I think two unmentioned measures might prove even more immediately helpful than those she describes.

First, I came to realize that for many young people of color, the perception of justice pretty much starts and ends with the police, rather than anyone in the court system itself. The police initiate and determine their main interaction with the court system because if the police decide to file an accusation, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the person will be found guilty, at least in big cities. That may be because they really are guilty, but the perception of those youngsters and their families and friends is strongly skewed toward believing in injustice because of the overburdened and overly busy nature of the system, including public defenders. If the big city courts wish those youngsters’ communities to consider them fair intermediaries, they must make the case to the legislature that they have to be more than processing mills.

A second conclusion that emerged, particularly in San Francisco, was that calling for more diversity on the bench or in the higher administrative ranks will be futile, or perhaps even counterproductive, as long as law schools fail to seek out diverse applicants and help them succeed. That’s the source of supply, and without it diversity cannot progress. In a sense, this is good news, since if there exists any institution with which the judiciary and the ABA have influence, it would be the law schools. I don’t know the outcome of the recent Judicial Division summit on Perceptions of Justice, but I hope these lines of approach received due consideration.

Sincerely,

Keith Roberts
Vice Chair, Lawyers Conference