A report by two psychologists, published in the Boston Globe, concludes that Massachusetts lawyers who anonymously rate judges they argue before are biased against black judges.
Over a span of 10 years, the study found that lawyers routinely gave lower scores to black judges than their white counterparts. There are consequences to these surveys since judges who score poorly are forced to attend mentoring classes based on the assumption that they are lacking in some core competency.
“The general theme that emerged was the idea that persons of color do not match the expectations of what a judge should look like, and therefore confront more doubt, mistrust, and interpersonal tensions than do non-minority judges,” explained the researchers.
Superior Court Judge Shannon Frison, president of the Massachusetts Black Judges Association, said this has always been an open secret among black judges for some time.
“No one is surprised,” she said. “People are just . . . mad.”
“We are minority judges, so I’m dealing with the way people feel about me every day, whether it’s written or unwritten, stated or unstated,” Frison told the Boston Globe. “This is a pretty big black eye on the bench in Massachusetts.”
Since minority judges know that they’re being held to a higher standard than white judges, they are under added pressure.
“It was felt that when combined, these factors increased the potential for minority judges to be labeled as intolerant, a bully, insensitive, and disrespectful, especially when asserting judicial authority,” concluded the study.
A commission was founded to investigate allegations of bias late last year after tensions began to swell.
Questionnaires are now being revised and input will be monitored for bias.
“Responses will be monitored on an ongoing basis to see if there continues to be any indication of bias, as no amount of bias is acceptable, and court leaders are determined to continue efforts to ensure that the questionnaires are a fair and useful tool for all judges, and that the process will allow all judges to achieve the fullest development of their professional skills, ” said Judge Paula Carey, head of the commission investigating the issue.