Equal Opportunity and Diversity Committee

Chaired by Jessie Smith, 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 (attached at right) that it continues to distribute 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 a narrower, amended version. Although the amended rule garnered generally positive reviews from supporters of the original version, a second successful legal challenge was initiated against it in March 2022. The PA Disciplinary Board/AOPC (the “Board”) appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on April 22, and the Committee signed onto an amicus brief with several bar associations across the Commonwealth, signaling its support for the amended rule. On August 29, 2023, the Third Circuit reversed the lower federal court’s ruling, allowing enforcement of the Rule to move forward. In a press release (attached at right), the Commission celebrated the Third Circuit’s decision and underscored the Rule’s important role in redressing discrimination and harassment in the legal profession.

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. During the numerous meetings convened by the Committee, work group members generously shared the innovative courses, trainings, and programs their schools have incorporated into their curricula in response to national calls to address implicit bias and racial inequities in our justice system. The Committee recently published a guide (an electronic version of which is attached at right), which serves as a compilation of the programming shared by work group members. Commission staff have distributed copies of the guide to the American Bar Association and law schools and bar associations across the Commonwealth.

The guide also served as the basis for a CLE program, entitled “Innovative Anti-Bias Programming: A Curriculum for our Times for Law Students and Law Faculty,” which was held on October 31, 2022. Executive Director McCormick served as the moderator for the program, which was a collaborative effort by the Commission and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

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. In January 2023, in response to the Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) Board’s publication of proposed amendments to the ethics credit requirements for PA attorneys, the Committee submitted comments (attached at right) applauding the Board for its responsiveness to the Committee’s suggestions and recommending that the Board strengthen its proposal by making its proposed anti-bias credit mandate a recurring, rather than one-and-done, requirement. The Board is considering the comments submitted by the Committee and other stakeholders.

Comments on Relevant Proposed State Procedural and Evidentiary Rules: In October 2020, the Committee submitted to the PA Supreme Court 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. In May 2022, the Court published an amended proposal that was largely responsive to these concerns. The Commission submitted comments (attached at right) on the amended proposal on June 23, 2022, supporting the changes and advocating for several additional modifications to strengthen indigent individuals’ ability to access Pennsylvania’s courts.

In April 2023, the Court again published an updated proposal governing IFP procedures. In its comments (attached at right), the Commission indicated its support for the Court’s proposed creation of a generally applicable IFP rule that will enable indigent individuals in the criminal context to have access to PA courts in a streamlined manner. The Commission also suggested several modifications to the proposal, including clarifying that the proposed rule does not limit defendants’ ability to have court costs waived under other authority. The Committee continues to monitor the status of the rule 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.


  • Jessie Louise Smith, Esq. (Chair)
  • Rodney R. Akers, Esq.
  • President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark
  • Trent Hargrove, Esq.
  • Rajju Malla-Dhakal
  • Jon Pushinsky, Esq.
  • Jay Silberblatt, Esq.
  • Judge Doris Smith-Ribner (Ret.)
  • Catherine Volponi, Esq.