The Council on Access and Fairness provides leadership and guidance for the State Bar of California to ensure the legal profession reflects the rich diversity of the people of California in a way that is equally accessible and free of bias.
Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors. They have not been adopted or endorsed by the State Bar Board of Trustees and do not necessarily constitute the official position of the State Bar of California. All activities are funded entirely by voluntary contributions. No mandatory attorney dues are used for these activities.
I am writing my first and last message as Chair of the State Bar Council on Access and Fairness (COAF). With COAF surviving the debate regarding the nature and scope of the State Bar’s Public Protection mission, resulting in the recognition that the administration of justice and diversity/inclusion are inherent in the public protection for all Californians, with the Sections separating from the State Bar, and with the lack of an annual dues bill to provide regular funding for our work, this year has been a very challenging but productive year for COAF. We continue to stress the importance and value of diversity, access and fairness in the legal profession, judiciary and the community.
The struggle is real as COAF strives for a culture of inclusion within California legal and judicial communities that accommodates the needs of California’s diverse population and ensures that the justice system delivers procedural fairness and substantive justice to the people of California; a legal profession comprised of a diverse population of attorneys (including minorities, women, LGBT, seniors, and persons with disabilities); the elimination of the educational achievement gap between diverse kindergarten through 12th grade students and other student populations; and equal access for diverse students to enhanced educational opportunities and information about the legal profession to cultivate and support their interest and involvement in the judicial system.
This year we have focused on raising the bar pass rate, working with the “Cut Score Panel”/ Bar Content Panel and Psychological Interventions Research Team to develop a project plan and timeline goals to (a) harnesses data from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) to examine the influence of social belonging on law students’ motivation and performance and (b) to create, implement, and evaluate a scalable productive mindset intervention to promote success on California’s bar exam. This was necessary because the July 2016 California bar exam pass rate was forty-three percent—the lowest in three decades. Moreover, passage rates sorted by groups revealed wide racial and ethnic disparities.
We have also focused on presenting Judicial Appointment Workshops around the state and convening the third in a series of Judicial Summits over the past 10 years to increase the status of diversity in the judiciary. We continue to promote and expand the California Partnership High School Law Academies (originally 6 academies in 2007 and now up to 20 statewide) and to hold our annual high school law academy essay contest among the CPA Law Academies to educate students and to promote law-related concepts and events using ABA and other Law Day Themes. We are promoting the diversity pipeline through the Community College 2+2+3 Pathway to Law Program originally created by COAF and now managed by California LAW, Inc.. We are working to construct a mentoring program for the transition of new lawyers into the legal profession and that will support the existing and new mentoring programs for new lawyers administered through local, minority and specialty bar associations, with the State Bar providing access to a technology platform to facilitate the management and operations of these mentoring programs.
Finally, COAF is celebrating it’s 10 year anniversary. This is a major milestone and would not have been possible without the many stakeholders who generously volunteered their time, ideas and energy to make COAF what it is today. I sincerely thank all the members of COAF past, present and future for their dedication to increasing diversity in the legal profession that mirrors the diversity of the people of California. We have been very fortunate to have Patricia Lee guiding COAF’s mission and vision from year one. Chairs come and go but Patricia Lee has remained our constant and she is a true warrior.
It has been a privilege to serve as the Chair of COAF this year. Thank you to everyone for your support. And we look forward to your continued support to ensure that the work of COAF and the State Bar to promote diversity and inclusion in the legal profession remains an active and integral part of the State Bar’s public protection mission, with adequate funding and resources to continue the excellent and important efforts achieved over the past 10 years for years to come.
The State Bar launches its new website: see www.calbar.ca.gov. The website redesign and overhaul comes at a time of ongoing reforms for the State Bar, and aims to provide greater accessibility for the public, attorneys and applicants. Unlike the former website, the new site includes specific information on access to justice and diversity in the legal profession With the agency’s primary mission focused on public protection, the new website provides easier access to attorney discipline information and legal resources. The site is mobile-optimized to reflect the reality that many Californians access the web primarily through mobile devices. The site aims to help the public better find information on how to file an attorney misconduct complaint and other attorney discipline system resources. Features and highlights of the new website include: resources for the public, information for CA licensed attorneys, easier access to information for greater transparency, information for prospective attorneys, information about access to justice and diversity in the legal system. Go to: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/About-Us/News-Events/News-Releases/ArtMID/10234/ArticleID/220/The-State-Bar-of-California-Launches-a-New-Website
The final report from the Governance Task Force includes a proposed State Bar mission statement focusing on public protection and “the promotion of efforts for greater access to, and inclusion in, the legal system.” [emphasis added] The report also acknowledges the need to focus on access to justice and diversity and inclusion as inherent to the Bar’s public protection mission. State Bar Sections will be splitting from the State Bar, forming their own separate entity to continue Section operations. See the 2017 Task Force Report HERE.
Recently retired Judge Diana Becton has been appointed as interim District Attorney by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. She will be the first woman and first person of color to hold this position in the county’s 168-year history. She will be replacing Mark Petersen, who resigned in disgrace after being charged with perjury and grand theft for using $66,000 in campaign cash as a personal slush fund. Becton began her term on September 18, 2017.
When the Council on Access and Fairness was formed in 2007, I was privileged to serve as its first chair. I was also privileged to have a fantastic group of committee members who were hardworking and smart and creative and committed to increasing diversity in the legal profession, including the judiciary. I was lucky to have now-Judge Judy Johnson as the Executive Director of the State Bar, and Patricia Lee, the State Bar’s Managing Director of Diversity and Outreach, who continues to serve as staff liaison to COAF.
In the COAF’s first year, we set our mission and goals. And I tell you we had a dream that we could bring about institutional and attitudinal change to create a culture of inclusion within the legal profession and the judiciary that fosters diversity. We had a dream that those institutional and attitudinal changes would result in a legal profession and a judiciary that actually reflected the beautiful tapestry of diversity that is found in California’s population. We had a dream that one day all little boys and all little girls, no matter their race or ethnicity, no matter their socioeconomic status, no matter their sexual orientation, would be able to watch a legal-themed television show or a legal-themed movie and say to themselves: “I can be a lawyer; I can be a judge.” I’m proud to say that the COAF has done much to realize its dream.
Our successes and innovations are too numerous to detail, but I want to highlight some of our hallmark achievements. We are very proud of the judicial appointments workshops for attorneys from diverse backgrounds to de-mystify the judicial application and appointments process, and the follow-up mentoring workshops to provide one-on-one feedback for attorneys who are in the process of drafting their online application. We have also conducted annual implicit bias trainings for JNE commissioners, to help increase the numbers of ethnic minorities and women successfully completing the judicial evaluations process. These efforts have led to an increase in judicial diversity.
Another source of pride is the COAF’s support of California Partnership Law Academies (CPA’s), in order to increase diversity in the early education pipeline into the legal profession. In compliance with the mandates in the Education Code and policies implemented throught the CA Department of Education, these academies are in public schools in diverse communities and comprised of at least 50% at risk students. Starting with an original 6 law academies in 2010, there are currently 20 law academies, including over 2000 students, supported by over 1200 volunteers from the legal profession; and they have graduated an average of 40 students per academy each year.
One of our innovations was to promote and support the Community College 2+2+3 Pathway to Law School Initiative. These efforts were spearheaded by COAF to create a coalition of 29 community colleges, six law schools (UC Davis, UC Irvine, USF, Santa Clara, USC and Loyola) and their undergraduate counterparts to create a pathway from community college to law school. An approved law curriculum was developed for all participating community colleges to provide to enrolled students. Participating undergraduate and law schools have agreed to provide priority review to students who have successfully completed the pathway curriculum.
In 2014 COAF enlisted Abbey Ginzberg to help produce an elimination of bias video: “Walk the Walk.” The video has been distributed to local and minority bars, public interest organizations, corporate entitles, law schools, governmental entities and other law-related organizations statewide and nationally. A report generated through focus groups with various legal profession practice settings highlighting model in-house diversity programs accompanies the video.
I look back at the COAF’s first 10 years and I marvel at all that we have accomplished. I am reminded of words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated that “On some positions, cowardice asks the questions, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the questions, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the questions, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.” I thank the State Bar Board of Trustees for having the foresight to do the right thing and establish the COAF, and to trust us to carry out our mission.
Happy 10th Birthday, COAF!
During the July 2017 meeting of the State Bar Board of Trustees the following appointments were approved: Chair: Diana Becton; Vice Chair: Judge Holly Fujie; and New Members: Connie Broussard (SD), Genevieve Jones-Wright (SD), Esther Kim (LA) and Donna Schuele (LA). Congratulations and welcome all!
As a continuation of projects from last year, the Board of Trustees assigned to COAF the task of developing pilot programs focusing on mentoring for new lawyers and increasing bar passage, including among students from diverse backgrounds. Working groups were established and both groups are making progress toward the creation of pilot programs in both areas. The Mentoring group is creating a mentoring program with access to a centralized technology platform. A bar passage working group including State Bar Senior Executives is working with a research team of social psychologists from Stanford, USC and Indiana University to focus on prior successful projects introducing psychological interventions to improve the mindset of students taking the bar exam. We will keep you posted on the program design and implementation for the July 2018 bar exam.
Inland Empire Workshop: COAF sponsored a workshop in Riverside County, moderated by Judge Marguerite Downing, LA Superior Court and immediate past COAF Chair, joined by speakers including Judge Gail O’Rane, Riverside County Superior Court, and Jodie Nunez, JNE Chair.
Los Angeles County Superior Court: Diversity Summit: Judge Bobbi Tillmon, COAF Judicial Committee Chair, represented COAF in this well attended Los Angeles County Superior Court Diversity Summit
By Judge Diana Becton, COAF Chair-Elect
In August 2016 COAF members Judges Diana Becton and Bobbi Tillmon attended the JNE Commissioner meeting in Los Angeles to conduct a training focused on implicit bias in decision making. The presenters were Cecil Brimm, Diversity Consultant, and Dr. Justin E. Brown, Professor and Neuroscientist. The purpose of the training was to educate and raise awareness of JNE Commissioners regarding the existence of bias and how to overcome biases in review of applications submitted by attorneys from diverse backgrounds, practice settings, etc.
COAF will continue to provide annual trainings to enhance the ongoing, objective review of judicial applications by JNE.
In honor of the 15th Anniversary of the Diversity Awards, prior recipients for the past 15 years were acknowledged and 2016 Awards were presented to Thuy Thi Nguyen, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley Bar Association and the Los Angeles Superior Court Teen Court Program. This was the final State Bar Annual meeting. COAF will be exploring future options/venues to continue presenting the Diversity and Education Pipeline Awards.
By Judge Bobbi Tillmon
In October 2016, the State Bar of California’s Council on Access and Fairness (COAF), in collaboration with the Judicial Council and the California Judges Association, convened the third summit in a series focusing on the status of diversity in the California Judiciary. Prior summits were held in 2006 and 2011. This Summit served as a five-year review of accomplishments since the 2011 summit and was designed to encourage open dialogue on key issues and solutions impacting judicial diversity. The summit was held on October 1, 2016 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego, California during the State Bar of California Annual Meeting and the annual conference of the California Judges Association. Plenary speakers included: Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye; Justice Goodwin H. Liu; Justice William Murray, Jr.; Justice Therese Stewart; Justice James Lambden (Ret.); Judge LaDoris Cordell, (Ret.); as well as, Judge Diana Becton, (Chair of the 2016 Diversity Summit); Judge Marguerite D. Downing, (Chair of the State Bar of California Council on Access and Fairness); Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte; Judge Eric Taylor, (Chair of the California Judges Association); Judge Dennis Hayashi; Judge John Pacheco; Judge Allen J. Webster, Jr.; and David Pasternak, (President of The State Bar of California).
More than 100 Justices, judges, other judicial branch leaders, bar leaders, law school deans, or their designees, and other stakeholders participated in the afternoon summit. Similar to prior summits, the participants received a status report on the current level of diversity in California’s trial, appellate, and the Supreme Court, reviewed accomplishments since the last summit, examined ongoing challenges to achieving a diverse judiciary, and made recommendations on how to further the goal of a more diverse bench. In an entertaining Fireside Chat format, led by Judge LaDoris Cordell (Ret.) as the moderator, she invited sitting justices and a retired justice to comment on several questions regarding their individual journey to the bench and their view on the importance of having a diverse bench.
For the first time, a unique feature was added to the Judicial Summit pre-summit preparation. Utilizing innovative technology, the summit incorporated an online WindTunneling process. This online process allowed a broad group of interested stakeholders to share candidly and anonymously, in their own words, what their thoughts were on improving the diversity of California’s judiciary. By expanding the group of respondents statewide, to include all judges, court executives, local/minority/specialty bars, public interest and non-profit groups and law schools, as well as the registrants of the summit, more ideas regarding judicial diversity were explored in advance of the summit and were then analyzed and processed.
The WindTunneling project allowed all participants, who signed up anonymously, to see every idea that was presented without knowing who shared which idea. The WindTunneling Project was not a survey or focus group. The opportunity to provide input lasted approximately one month ending prior to the Summit although the project became available again after the Summit, but those results are not included in this report. The participants of the project could read the various ideas, observe and/or react or contribute to the ideas. The staff of the WindTunneling Project identified patterns, themes and emergent new ideas making all findings available. One could participate in the process via computer, tablet or smartphone as many times as they liked.
The Project was widely advertised through the resources of COAF, the judiciary, bar associations, affiliates, and stakeholders. In addition, a 3-minute video was created by Judge Becton which promoted the project, explained how the project was designed and invited participation. All feedback was compiled and incorporated into the Judicial Summit Closing Plenary/Town Hall portion of the program. This section of the program was extremely successful because it brought the audience into the conversation by providing feedback from the WindTunneling participants and allowed the audience to make comments regarding their reaction to information they heard at the Summit.
As a result of the WindTunneling project, six complex issues emerged from the process and were analyzed by the Windtunneling staff whose data is incorporated into this report because of the importance of their revelations: Defining Judicial Diversity; Cultural Awareness as a Selection Criterion for Gathering and Evaluating Relevant Data; Engaging with Youth through Social Media; Engagement of Judges with Communities; and Revisions to the Judicial Retirement System (as an Incentive to Increased Judicial Applications by Attorneys from diverse backgrounds).
Program narrated by Judge Marguerite Downing and Judge Holly Fujie plus a cast of characters and MCLE panel.
A reenactment and discussion of Chy Lung v. Freeman, a case about Chinese women being detained at the Port of San Francisco as "lewd women" because they were traveling without their husbands. Through this U.S. Supreme Court case the panel examined the issues of immigration and federalism, as well as the polarizing issues of sexism, racial profiling and human trafficking.
Featuring Eva Paterson and Ward Connerly, moderated by Jeff Bleich (former Ambassador to Australia).
A standing room only, live streamed moderated debate about the use of race as a factor in higher education admissions post-Fisher v. University of Texas. Other team members included Prof. Gail Heriot and Professor Miranda Oshige McGowan, both from the University of San Diego School of Law.
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For further information about COAF initiatives, programs and events contact Patricia Lee at 415-538-2240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.