April 22, 2022
For Immediate Release
Contact: Thomas F. Nobile
NEW BRUNSWICK – Two years ago, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the New Jersey State Bar Association followed nationwide calls for racial justice in creating a special commission to examine institutional inequality that has existed in the legal system for decades.
Now, the NJSBA commission—created by then-President Kimberly Yonta and continued under current President Domenick Carmagnola—has issued a report outlining areas of bias in New Jersey’s legal system and profession. The Commission on Racial Equity in the Law (COREL) delivered a comprehensive report to the NJSBA’s Board of Trustees at its April meeting, offering recommendations on addressing inequities within and outside of the justice system, including educational awareness and how to advance the careers of young attorneys of color.
“Legal issues of ongoing anti-Black racism in New Jersey’s legal system and in certain segments of the practice of law continue to reveal themselves,” the report states. “Systemic racism exists and eradicating it from our justice system is crucial to ensuring public confidence in the system to which we, as lawyers, have pledged our professional lives. The NJSBA must be a leading and consistent voice in helping to achieve these goals.”
The Commission assembled legal luminaries from across New Jersey from a wide range of practice areas, including private and government practice and retired judges. More than 40 NJSBA members worked intensively for two years to examine where racial injustice occurs in the legal world and offer guidance on how to improve policies and practices that have a disproportionate negative impact on communities of color.
“COREL brought together attorneys from disparate backgrounds, life experiences and practice specialties, who crafted viable proposals by which to affect change,” said G. Glennon Troublefield, who co-chaired the Commission and is an NJSBA trustee and the incoming Secretary of the Association. “The proposed recommendations, which are contained in our final report, chart a path and create a template for addressing some of the structural racism and inequities that exist within our legal system and broader society.”
Carolyn Chang, who also co-chaired COREL, said she hoped the final report would continue its work long after she leaves practice.
“Despite a tough 24 months, the members of COREL worked incredibly hard and had hard-hitting conversations surrounding painful experiences,” Chang said. “The racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd was a wake-up call for many who had never experienced anti-Black racism.” The Commission worked through several sub-committees—culture of the profession, pipeline for leadership, civics and education, policing, and municipal courts.
The report highlighted research and developments in each category. It will be circulated among the Association’s sections and committees, shared with affinity bars and other community organizations to begin the process of collecting comments to determine the next steps. Recommendations include:
• Advocating for legislation that would allow civilian complaint review boards in New Jersey, with recommendations for ways to allow more community flexibility.
• Comments to strengthen a proposal for police licensing currently in review at the state Attorney General’s Office, including increased and recurrent training in de-escalation techniques, as well as implicit bias training, and improved access to mental health resources. New Jersey is only one of five states that does not license police officers.
• Supporting legislation limiting the use of no-knock warrants with several additional recommendations, including establishing a higher standard for granting them, the designation of a single jurist for applications, and improved training and data collection.
• Establishing an annual “Pathways to the Bench” educational program to help demystify the process of political appointments and give tips and guidance to attorneys from underrepresented communities.
• Bringing cultural competency training to law firms.
• Using a Burlington County marijuana offense expungement program held last summer as a statewide model for helping communities of color, who have been disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests before legalization.
• Supporting legislation that would require improved civics education in New Jersey schools.
• Providing a curated a list of educational resources for issues related to race, racial bias, history, and the law.
“We believe the recommendations contained within COREL, created through the outstanding work of many dedicated and experienced attorneys, will help promote a fairer and more inclusive legal system in New Jersey,” Carmagnola said.
Indeed, a critical recommendation that the Board immediately implemented was to convert the Commission into a Special Committee on Racial Equity in the Law. The special committee’s mission will be to continue to examine the impact of racial inequalities and anti-Black sentiment in the practice of law and administration of justice and make suggestions to the NJSBA Board of Trustees on ways to mitigate those inequities.
Added Yonta: “The development of COREL and the delivery of a final report to the Board of Trustees is only the first step in a continuing course of action to move the needle forward for the fair administration of justice in New Jersey.…I am proud to be a New Jersey lawyer and a member of the NJSBA as the momentum moves past a moment in history and takes on a permanent legacy to build systemic change.”
The report concludes: “The comfort of remaining silent in the face of institutional racial inequalities must fade. Achieving true equality requires all lawyers and leaders to have tough conversations about racism and to commit themselves to make a change.”
The full COREL report can be found at njsba.com. Comments can be sent to [email protected].