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Ethnicity among New Jersey judges resembles the state population less closely than do the judiciaries of nearby states with similar demographics, a comparison of court and census statistics shows. People of African-American, Hispanic and Asian ethnicity comprise 35.1 percent of New Jersey’s population but only 12 percent of its judiciary, a ratio of 2.9 to 1. That is lower than Maryland (2.1 to 1), Connecticut (1.8 to 1) and Massachusetts (1.8 to 1). By contrast, New Jersey’s bench is more ethnically representative than New York’s. African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians make up 40 percent of that state’s population but only 12.2 percent of judges, a 3.3-to-1 ratio. (Pennsylvania’s court administration office says it does not compile such statistics.) The diversity ratios of society to the bench — always political capital for ethnic bar groups — took on fresh significance this summer, when the American Bar Association adopted a series of recommendations aimed at increasing racial and ethnic minorities in state judiciaries. The ABA report, entitled “Justice in Jeopardy,” raised concerns about minorities’ lack of confidence in the legal system and the demographic changes that are making minorities a larger portion of the population. “We are becoming a more diverse people. Our judiciary and the judicial system (including judges, clerks, staff, lawyers and juries) should reflect the diversity of the society in which we live. If they do not, the legitimacy of the courts and the judicial system will be called into question with increasing frequency,” the ABA said. The report, adopted by the ABA House of Delegates in August, called for more diversity on the state and local nominating commissions that evaluate judicial candidates. It cited a study showing a correlation between the diversity of such bodies and the diversity of judicial nominees. Minorities aspiring to the bench are sometimes thwarted by “state and local bar associations whose members overwhelmingly are white, male Protestant, conservative ‘establishment’ attorneys.” “If special efforts are made to reach out to women and people of color to serve on such commissions, it will send a powerful signal to people of color and women within the legal community and the public at large, that the door to judicial office is open to them,” said the report. G. Allan Tarr, chairman of the political science department at Rutgers University in Camden who was consulted on the ABA study, agrees that “the perception that people of color are welcomed is crucial.” In New Jersey, there are five African-Americans and two Hispanics on the State Bar Association’s Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments Committee, together accounting for 28 percent of the 25-member panel. The chair, Thomas Sumners Jr., and one of its two vice chairs, Karen Upshaw, are African-American. “I think it’s a natural occurrence that when people see more people like them on the bench, they’re going to have a sense that the process is more fair,” Sumners says. DIVERSITY NOT INSTITUTIONALIZED There are currently 53 minority judges in the New Jersey courts: 32 African-Americans, 19 Hispanics and two Asians, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts. That is a 39.5 percent increase from 38 judges five years ago and a near doubling of 28 judges 10 years ago. Administrative Director of the Courts Richard Williams concedes that the highly formalized vetting process for would-be judges does not officially acknowledge the goal of achieving a diverse bench, but he believes those who participate in the process share that goal. “My experience generally has been that the executive branch, no matter who has been in the governor’s position, has certainly been interested in learning of quality [minority] candidates. How that information gets to them is not as formalized. My sense is there’s an appreciation of the value of having a diverse bench,” Williams says. Williams questions the validity of comparing the judiciary’s composition with that of the general population, noting that judges must have been attorneys in practice for 10 years. The state does not collect data on the racial characteristics of the bar, but Williams says he suspects it differs from the composition of the population. Williams says achieving a diverse bench is one of a range of factors that determine whether the public perceives courts as fair. “I think it is an important step,” Williams says, “but ultimately I think confidence is inspired by what we do, how we deal with people, how we resolve our cases that will foster confidence.” POLITICS GOES ON The issue of representative diversity of the bench is heating up as Gov. James McGreevey decides on a successor to retiring state Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero. On Tuesday, Hispanic Bar Association President Pedro Jimenez Jr. will meet with the governor’s staff to present his association’s three recommendations for the seat. He declines to preview their names but says all are Republicans, keeping with the tradition of partisan balance on the Court. Two candidates that have been mentioned in press accounts are U.S. District Court Judge Jose Linares and Appellate Division Judge Ariel Rodriguez. “The time is right. This is a community that has actively supported the governor,” says Jimenez. “The question is not why, the question is, why not?” The Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey is staying out of the fray over the Supreme Court vacancy but is intensifying its lobbying to get more Asians on the bench. President Jae Im says his group has presented two candidates to the governor’s office for appointment to trial courts, but he declines to name names. “We have to continue with our efforts to push for Asian American judges, but to step it up to another level, to continue to keep the administration aware that this is an important goal,” says Im, an associate at Carpenter, Bennett & Morrissey in Newark. Im says the number of Asian judges in New Jersey is small because state senators play a large role in the judicial selection process and few Asians are involved in state politics. “The political process can be an obstacle,” Im says, “but we accept that the political process is involved to a certain degree.”

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