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State Senator Malcolm Smith

Senate Democrats Hold Public Hearing

on Judicial Diversity December 4, 2006

 Judicial and legal experts offered testimony today at a public hearing on judicial diversity – the first in a series of hearings called for by Senate Democratic Leader-elect Malcolm A. Smith. State Senators Neil Breslin (D-Albany) and John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) served as co-chairs. 

Smith’s first public hearing featured testimony from a varied group of experts, including judges, attorneys, legal scholars, good government groups, law enforcement officials, political party leaders, civil rights organizations and judicial reform advocates.  

Among those offering testimony were: The Honorable Ann Pfau, First Deputy Chief Administrative Assistant of the New York State Office of Court Administration; former State Sen. John R. Dunne, vice-chair of the Committee for Modern Courts; John E. Higgins, Capital District Black and Hispanic Bar Association President, Kathryn Grant-Madigan, president-elect of the New York State Bar Association; and Albany Law School Professor and criminal defense attorney Laurie Shanks.  

Senator Smith, who currently serves as the Ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, noted that the State’s judicial system “does not adequately reflect the gender, ethnic and geographic diversity of our state.” He said a “broad and diverse judiciary would enhance public confidence in our justice system.”  

Breslin, who serves with Smith on the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, pointed out that the State’s 55 Appellate Court judges include only nine women, two African Americans and two Hispanic members.  The State’s highest Court, he said, also lacks diversity. “The seven judges on the Court of Appeals include just one Hispanic member and no African Americans,” Breslin said. “Our judiciary can only benefit from a diverse and varied viewpoint,” Breslin said. “It should not be dominated by any one ethnic, gender or racial group.”  

Sampson, who is also on the Judiciary Committee, said Governor Pataki never, during his 12 years in office, nominated a minority to the Court of Appeals.  “And unfortunately, his record for lower court appointments is just as disappointing,” he said.  “Only a handful of the 305 judges he appointed since taking office were minorities, including four women.  Governor Pataki consistently appointed white male judges from upstate New York to downstate mid-level appeals courts, far more aggressively than any other governor since the court’s creation in 1896.”  

Several participants noted that Governor-elect Spitzer would have an opportunity to appoint three judges to the Court of Appeals within his first 18 months in office. However, a lack of diversity on the lower courts already reduces the pool of experienced minority judges from which appointments to the higher court are made.  

“An important aspect of these hearings is to discuss not just the Court of Appeals, but our entire State Judicial Branch, including the Appellate Division, which is really the ‘back bench’ for selection to the highest Court,” Smith continued.  “We should have a diverse back bench for the top bench.”  

Laurie Shanks, a professor at Albany Law School and partner at the law firm of Kindlon and Shanks, said "A judiciary that does not reflect those who come before it risks losing credibility. A society committed to the rule of law must insure that each individual in that society accepts and believes in the credibility of those who will interpret and enforce the laws. Equally important, each member of society must believe that the interpretation and enforcement is done in a manner that is fair to all. Such a belief is difficult, if not impossible, when the judiciary does not reflect the racial, gender and ethnic diversity of the society."  

Another expert offering testimony, former State Senator John Dunne, who is vice-chair of the Committee for Modern Courts, said it is the Committee’s “long held view that a judiciary which reflects the broad diversity of the state enhances public confidence in the administration of justice."  

Albany City Court Judge Helena Heath-Roland, who is also a member of the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY), said “WBASNY’s mission is to advance the status of women in the legal profession and society, and to promote the fair and equal administration of justice. We  believe that diversity on the bench gives credibility to the notion of, and  is  an  essential  element  for,  ensuring  credibility,  equality and fairness  in  our  judicial  system.   In order to promote diversity on the bench  our  Association  has,  on  both the statewide level and through its local  chapters,  taken  an active role in developing programs specifically designed  to  advance  many  qualified  women  to the bench.”  

Kathryn Grant Madigan, president-elect of The New York State Bar Association, said “Increasing the number of minorities on the bench would cultivate public confidence in the judiciary which, in turn, would strengthen the independence of the courts.  Moreover, a diverse judiciary would result in judicial decisions that reflect insight and experience as varied as New York ’s citizenry. For the public to have trust and confidence in the fairness of the judiciary, it is imperative that the members of the judiciary reflect New York State ’s diverse population.”  

Fifteen years ago, Governor Mario Cuomo created the Task Force on Minority Representation on the Bench (a/k/a the “Task Force on Judicial Diversity”) which found that there was clear evidence of an extreme lack of diversity in the state’s judiciary, and further found there was no shortage of well-qualified minority and women candidates to explain the lack of diversity.  

According to 2001 figures published by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Judicial Independence, only 84 (or 14.6 percent) minority judges out of 574 authorized state-court judges in New York sat on the bench in trial and appellate courts in the state. Of these, 54 (or 9.4 percent) were African-American, 24 (4.2 percent) were Latina/o, 6 (1 percent) were Asian or Pacific Islanders, and none was Native American.   

Although these figures represent a slight improvement over the statistics reported by the Cuomo Task Force, the percentages of African American, Latino, Asian and Native American judges in the state have not kept pace with increases in the state’s minority populations.  

Smith, who will become leader of the Senate Democrats on January 1, will use the testimony of the experts to create a “Blueprint for Judicial Diversity” that could help develop a State Judiciary “that truly reflects the people it serves and protects.”  He said he would convene public hearings in the coming months to gather testimony from advocates and experts.

 

***MEDIA ALERT***

 

Statement released by Incoming State Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm A. Smith:

“I am very disturbed about the recent shootings in Jamaica , Queens which resulted in the death of Sean Bell. My sincerest sympathy goes out to the victims’ family as well as his fiancée. I spoken with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and he has ensured me that a full investigation will be taken on the matter. I have also been in contact with Senator- Elect Eric Adams, President of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement and he has also expressed concerns. I will consult with the family, Queens District Attorney District Attorney Richard Brown and the Mayor and hold a press avail following a meeting that will be held on Monday.”

 

BIOGRAPHY

Mr. Malcolm Smith, 43, earned his degree from Fordham University in Business Administration with a concentration in Economics. Senator Smith furthered his education with graduate work in economics and Public Finance at Fordham and NYU.   A real estate developer by trade, Senator Smith is no stranger to politics. While the State Senate is Malcolm Smith's first elective office, he has been a senior aide to former Congressman Floyd Flake -- and a Chief Aide to City Council Member Archie Spigner. Senator Smith is also a former executive in  the New York City Mayor's Office of Economic Development and has served as the President of the Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica, in Southeast Queens. In addition, he created the Southeast Queens Housing Development Corporation, a not-for-profit corporation designed to purchase, rehabilitate and sell city and HUD owned property. Senator Smith is currently the President and Founder of Smith Development Corporation. 

Throughout his public service, Senator Smith has used his skill at managing and developing residential and commercial projects to benefit the city and its residents. His accomplishments are notable and he is credited with creating several initiatives centered on revitalizing communities and bringing economic development opportunities to residents of the City. His creation of Operation Excellence, a training program for students in real estate development, was a feature story in local television news. As the founder of Smith Development Corporation, Senator Smith has pioneered the renaissance of many neighborhoods in New York City. 

Because of his efforts, Senator Smith was recently honored with the Community Economic Development Award from the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators.  Senator Smith, brings expertise in community revitalization and housing issues, and is interested in equally important matters like health care, education, and economic development. Senator Smith is married to the former Michele Lisby. They are the parents of two children; Julian, 15 and  Amanda, 6.                                        

Standing Committee Assignments 2000: Veterans & Military Affairs (Ranking Minority); Alcoholism & Drug Abuse; Cities; Civil Service & Pensions; Environmental Conservation; Judiciary; Racing, Gaming & Wagering.

 

To post your comments on the discussion board click on the notepad.

You can e-mail Senator Smith at masmith@senate.state.ny.us

or contact him at

New York Office

205-19 Linden Blvd 

St. Albans NY 11412 

718 528-4290 fax 718-528-4290

Albany Office

Room 508 LOB 

Albany NY 12247

518 455-2195 Fax 518 426-6805

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