Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Czuleger Touts Success of Superior Court’s Diversity Summit
By Tina Bay, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Stephen Czuleger yesterday credited the court’s first ever Diversity Summit, held this past Saturday, with boosting the issue of diversity on the bench to a greater level of prominence.
“The fact that we’re talking about it raises it on the radar screen and causes people to think about it, and come to agreement that this is an important thing,” he told the METNEWS, explaining that the end goal is to encourage minority bar associations countywide to develop strategies that will influence the governor in making appointments to the court.
About 90 percent of judges obtain their seats by appointment, compared to the 10 percent that win elections.
Organized by the diversity subcommittee of the court’s community outreach committee, the four-hour event featured panels addressing the role of law schools in fostering diversity, and discussing diversity in the judicial appointments process. The panels focused on ethnic diversity, though other forms, such as linguistic diversity, were noted for future discussion.
Members of both panels blamed the lack of diversity in the judiciary on a deficient applicant pool resulting from a lack of people of color in the pipeline.
Based on a demographic breakdown included in the Superior Court’s 2007 annual report, 10 percent of Los Angeles Superior Court judges are Latino, 8.9 percent are African-American, and 8.2 are Asian/Pacific Islander. While this puts the court ahead of its private sector counterparts, it does not reflect Los Angeles County’s population, which is 44.6 Latino, 9.8 African American, and 11.9 is Asian/Pacific Islander, panelists noted.
UCLA School of Law Dean Michael Schill, who was on a panel that included the deans of Loyola, Southwestern and USC law schools, said that Proposition 209 very much constrains his school’s ability to cultivate a diverse student body.
“It is a very, very strange situation in this state,” he remarked.
All four deans agreed that the U.S. News and World Report law school ranking system, which weights LSAT scores heavily and does not give credit for prioritizing diversity, has a “pernicious effect” on how schools make admissions decisions and plan for the future.
Loyola Law School Dean David Burcham said it was unrealistic to look simply to law schools for an answer to a non-diverse judicial applicant pool. Law schools are “at the end of the pipeline when it comes to the bench and the bar,” he said, and judges, lawyers and community leaders need “to tackle the very vexing problems of education beginning with kindergarten and perhaps pre-school.”
Similar thoughts were articulated by the judicial appointments panel, comprised of to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Appointments Secretary Timothy Simon; recently-retired Judicial Appointments Advisor John G. Davies; former Gov. Gray Davis; Superior Court Judge Burt Pines, who served as judicial appointments secretary to Davis; and State Bar President Sheldon Sloan.
In a statement read by Simons, Schwarzenegger said he was focused on expanding the pool of judicial candidates, and noted that a diverse bench begins with diverse law schools and a diverse bar.
To date, 38 percent of Schwarzenegger’s appointments to the Los Angeles Superior Court have been minorities—a number Davies called “commendable” given the percentages in the applicant pool. Statewide, the cumulative percentage of minority appointments is 18.7 percent.
While the governor’s appointments during the initial years of his administration were less diverse than he would have liked, Davies said, the percentage of minority appointments jumped from 17 in 2005 to 31 percent in 2006.
Simons said the legal community must find a way to foster in Latino and African American young people the desire to pursue legal as a career.
“We have challenges, and I don’t mean to be offensive, particularly among this hip hop generation, which has put a de-emphasis on education,” he said. “[W]e just have to get off our high horse and roll up our sleeves and get in there with the kids, and let them see that this is a better alternative to what the media and recording industry is telling them is their career path.”
Echoing Simons, Sloan explained that the State Bar’s new diversity pipeline project aims to run outreach programs to students in “disadvantaged” communities in order to help them get on track for a legal career.
Davies commented that the only thing that will boost these numbers is “a concerted recruiting effort.”
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company