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May 02, 2022 Feature

The Importance of Jury Diversity

By Judge Stephanie Domitrovich

Welcome aboard to another exciting special edition theme of The Judges’ Journal. This edition describes the value in ensuring our jury pools reflect the diversity of our communities and provides the tools to implement said improvements. We invite you to read our broad spectrum of articles from authors in various fields sharing their perspectives and work.

All authors in this issue state a case for improving jury diversity. While many of the authors indicate similar reasons for needed change, each author brings their unique perspective and experience in their approach to this goal. Together, the authors provide readers blueprints and guidance for ways to make diversity a focus in the jury selection process.

We begin with an article written by Professor Amanda Nicholson Bergold discussing the psychological aspects of diverse jury composition. She explains how psychological research and literature reveal how the U.S. Supreme Court case of Batson has failed to prevent racially biased peremptory challenges. She describes how psychological research supports decreasing structural barriers preventing racial participation. She explains the value of psychological group research conducted to examine the impact of diverse juries on the group decision-making process.

In his article “Improving Jury Diversity in New York’s Federal Courts,” federal District Court Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr. of New York explains how the basic role of a judge to ensure a level playing field is achieved for litigants and by working on ways to increase jury diversity, judges level the playing field. Judge Geraci outlines how to increase the composition diversity of juries to more accurately reflect our communities. He describes the vital role of maintaining and gathering statistics to make ongoing comparisons measuring the improvement in diversity in jury pools. Ongoing monitoring of the data is necessary to continue to make a difference in ensuring diversity. He also suggests other proposals such as higher daily rates for jury compensation.

In his article entitled “A Plan of Our Own: The Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s Initiative to Increase Jury Diversity,” federal District Court Chief Judge Juan R. Sánchez writes about his court’s efforts to increase jury diversity. A subcommittee from his court proposed recommendations, of which four were ultimately implemented and were successful in increasing diversity.

In “The Case for Jury Inclusiveness and Reform: The Pennsylvania Story,” attorney Lisette “Mimi” McCormick writes about her commission’s efforts and suggestions to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for implementing ways to improve statewide diversity in juries. She is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Fairness. Her commission has collaborated with county court administrators and various state agencies to create a statewide juror list, which achieves a more racially and socioeconomically diverse group of citizens. Her commission is involved in collecting juror demographic data and distributing a pamphlet on jury service to address language barriers that limited-English-proficient individuals face when being considered for jury selection. She writes about her commission’s efforts in drafting and advocating for amendments to Pennsylvania’s rules as to juror excusals and exemptions, criminal record exclusions, and peremptory challenges.

I wrote an article dedicated to the Honorable William J. Caprathe, a state trial judge who devoted his life to improving our American jury system.

Rigging the Jury, submitted by the Prison Policy Initiative, explains how excluding people with criminal records makes our juries less diverse, why jury diversity is vital to the fairness of a trial, and what can be done to remedy the jury composition process.

Attorney Annie H. Sloan, in “Racial Bias in Jury Selection Must Be Addressed,” describes various reform efforts regarding peremptory challenges such as in Washington, California, and Arizona. She states that Arizona took the lead and eliminated peremptory challenges altogether and was the first state to do so. She explains the importance of the reform movement and that “[e]very state should be considering how it can strengthen protections against the pernicious use of race in jury selection.” She advises “individual judges must be vigilant and aggressive in challenging camouflaged uses of race, such as race-laden objections to demeanor or perspectives on the criminal legal system.”

Retired Judge Margaret Kuroda Masunaga writes a down-to-earth biography of our featured Waymaker, the Honorable Lucy Haeran Koh, a U.S. circuit judge. Judge Koh was the first Asian American U.S. district judge in the Northern District of California and the first Korean American U.S. district judge. Unlike her work as a lawyer in advancing one client’s cause, Judge Koh states her mission as a judge is to seek the truth and advance justice.

The authors in this special edition explain the value of diverse juries and also provide ways to make the necessary changes in our jurisdictions. Updating jury source lists, increasing jury compensation, and eliminating peremptory challenges are a beginning. The public’s perception of equal access and fairness is achieved by providing diverse juries.

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By Judge Stephanie Domitrovich

Hon. Stephanie Domitrovich is a state general jurisdiction trial judge and has served for over 32 years in the Sixth Judicial District of Pennsylvania.