Equal Opportunity and Diversity Committee

Chaired by Kathy Gomez, Esq., the main priority of the Equal Opportunity and Diversity Committee is to promote diversity and inclusion within the legal profession and address discriminatory conduct within the Commonwealth’s justice system. The Committee’s current initiatives include the following:

PA Attorney Demographics: In 2018, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (“Court”) adopted the Committee’s suggestion to add a voluntary demographic check-off box to the annual attorney registration form, thereby establishing a baseline and a resource for diversity efforts throughout the Commonwealth. Since then, each year, the Committee receives the demographic data collected by the PA Disciplinary Board (“PDB”) and produces a one-page graphic summary of the data (posted at right). The Committee then distributes the summary, along with the full PDB Report, to bar associations, President Judges, and advocacy organizations throughout the Commonwealth.

UJS Policy on Non-Discrimination and EEO: Working in collaboration with the Commission’s first Chair, Chief Justice Ralph Cappy, and the AOPC, the Commission produced the UJS Policy on Non-Discrimination and EEO and accompanying complaint procedures in 2007, and the Court approved it the same year. Since then, the Committee has been distributing the Policy and complaint procedures during Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) and other programs, and has drafted a one-page summary of the Policy and complaint process that will be distributed to judges, court personnel, attorneys and court users throughout the state.

PA Judicial and Attorney Ethics Codes: In tandem with the UJS Policy above, the Commission also drafted and advocated for amendments to the ethics codes for PA attorneys and judges, specifically prohibiting discrimination and bias by judges and attorneys in the course of performing their legal duties. In June 2013, the Court approved the amendments proposed by the Committee to Pennsylvania’s Judicial Conduct Code. In June 2020, the Court approved a similar provision in the Rules of Professional Conduct – Rule 8.4(g). Enforcement of this rule was enjoined by a federal court following a legal challenge to it, but in August 2021, the Court adopted the current amended version. A legal challenge has been initiated against this version as well, but the rule, as amended, remains in effect.

Diversity & Inclusion Training and Education: In 2017, the Committee produced and widely distributed an extensive diversity manual, Creating a Diverse Workforce in the Pennsylvania Courts: A Manual for Success, to all PA judicial districts, and since then, has used it in connection with educational sessions the Commission has conducted for PA judges and court administrators. The Committee has also conducted training sessions for women interested in running for judicial office as a part of the Ready to Run program sponsored by Chatham University’s Running for Office trainings each year. In addition, the Committee continues to collaborate with law schools and bar associations to conduct programming on the intersection of race and gender in the law.

Implicit Bias Training: In March 2019, the Committee published and distributed a guide (attached at right), “Demonstrating Respect, Neutrality, and Fairness: Guidelines for the Pennsylvania Courts,” for judges, court staff, and attorneys as a guide for their own conduct, and to address implicit and explicit bias within the legal profession and the courts. Commission members and Executive Director Lisette McCormick also have presented CLE courses on implicit bias for attorneys and state court administrators, including a program from the CLE Board and Carnegie Mellon University, entitled “Objection: An Interactive Educational Experience on Diversity and Bias Issues in the Legal Profession.”

Law School Curricula: In 2019, the Committee established an Implicit Bias in Legal Education Work Group, comprised of deans and administrators from each PA law school. The group has since been sharing their diversity and inclusion programs and courses with each other.  The Committee’s goal is to produce a range of multi-faceted courses on diversity, inclusion and systemic bias that the law schools can integrate into their curricula.

Mandatory Anti-Discrimination Training for Judges, Court Employees and Attorneys: In September 2020, the Committee urged the Court via letter (attached at right) to require all state jurists and judicial employees to undergo annual, mandatory anti-discrimination training, in response to numerous instances of severely discriminatory misconduct by several state court judges. The Committee also sent a letter (attached at right) to the PA Bar Association (“PBA”) President, supporting its recommendation to the Court, suggesting a mandatory annual CLE course on diversity, inclusion and anti-bias for all PA attorneys. The Court is still considering both recommendations.

Comments on Relevant Proposed State Procedural and Evidentiary Rules: In October 2020, the Committee submitted to the PA Supreme Court Civil Procedural Rules Committee formal comments on a proposal to amend state rules governing requests by indigent litigants to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”). In its comments (attached at right), the Committee opposed aspects of the proposal that would eliminate pro bono attorneys’ ability to file an IFP praecipe on behalf of their clients, and other provisions that would hinder indigent litigants’ ability to secure and benefit from IFP status. To date, the Procedural Rules Committee has not taken further action on the proposal. The Committee also recommended to the Court a new evidentiary rule that would limit the admissibility of immigration status into evidence during litigation. The Court forwarded the recommendation to its Committee on Rules of Evidence, which produced a rule (The Final Rule) based on the Committee’s recommendation.  The Court approved the new rule on August 11, 2021.

Harassment Within the Legislature: In response to reports of long-standing, pervasive acts of sexual harassment within Pennsylvania’s legislative branch, the Committee submitted letters (attached at right) in support of bills introduced during the last legislative session that would have created uniform, internal procedures for filing, investigating, and adjudicating sexual harassment complaints within the state legislature. The bills have not advanced, but the Committee is working with other interested parties to reformulate a strategy to produce a strong policy prohibiting harassment within the legislative branch.

Diversifying Appointments: Early in its history, the Commission provided all Pennsylvania judicial districts with uniform model appointment procedures and best practices (attached at right) that ensure the broadest opportunities for all interested parties to seek and obtain appointments by the courts. The Committee is also working with the Governor’s office to recommend ways to increase the diversity of candidates selected for judicial appointment.

Members

  • Katherine J. Gomez, Esquire (Chair)
  • President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark
  • Judge Doris Smith-Ribner (Ret.)
  • Homer Floyd, Esquire
  • Trent Hargrove, Esquire
  • Jessie Louise Smith, Esquire
  • Catherine Volponi, Esquire
  • Samuel Yun, Esquire