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Court commission focuses on bias training, tracking

Court commission focuses on bias...

COLUMBIA, Mo. - More training and new tracking could help state officials identify "barriers" in the way for people's access to the courts.

Missouri's Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness met for its first public feedback meeting on its lengthy list of recommendations for the state courts. Those include required implicit bias training for judges at all levels, court personnel and attorneys.

The commission had a sparsely attended public feedback session Thursday in Columbia. The recommendations aren't published online. The dates and locations of its feedback sessions aren't on the commission's page, but are listed in a news release from February 9. The commission's executive director Julie Lawson said the Columbia turnout was disappointing, and wanted to get broad input from the state on its work.

"Anyone who has an experience with the judicial process, we want to make sure that the changes we are making represent them," Lawson said.

Commission co-chair Lisa Hardwick said she supports better data collection as it relates to race and the court system. Each time the group tried to look at numbers regarding the racial composition of Missouri's lawyers, the data didn't exist. She said this tracking could help them realize barriers for certain racial and ethnic groups in the judicial branch.

"I do think it's a good thing," Hardwick said. "We've got to have data in order to analyze the problem."

Hardwick, an appeals court judge in Missouri's western district, became the first African-American female lawyer to practice in the Kansas City area in 1985. She said her gender and race didn't hold her back from getting that first job, but the fact she was the first certainly raised a question in her mind on why that was the case.

Missouri judges all received implicit bias training last year, a move Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge heralded at the State of the Judiciary in 2016. Hardwick said such training is important in the judiciary, applying to decisions like civil dockets and setting bail amounts for defendants.

"The fact that a person may come in with a certain demographic may cause a judge to think that they are a flight risk," Hardwick said. "We don't want that sort of thing happening."

The next public feedback session will take place in Kansas City on Feb. 28. Lawson said she would also take emails from the public on the recommendations, which will be presented to the Missouri Supreme Court in May.


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