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Implicit Bias Training May Be Required for Calif. Judges, Lawyers

May 14, 2019, 5:59 PM

California lawyers, judges, and court personnel would have to take implicit bias training every two years under a bill moving through the Legislature.

Assembly Bill 242 requires the Judicial Council by Jan. 1, 2021, and the State Bar by Jan. 1, 2022, to develop training on implicit bias, defined as positive or negative associations that affect their beliefs, attitudes, and actions toward other people. Court personnel must complete the course by Jan. 1, 2022. Lawyers would have to meet the requirement after Jan. 31, 2023.

The measure unanimously passed the Assembly May 13, and is backed by Disability Rights California and Equal Justice in Society. Next the bill will head to the Senate.

The Judiciary Council and State Bar already are expanding existing training about implicit bias, which includes race, gender, socioeconomic status, gender, religion, ancestry, national origin, ethnic group identification, age, mental and physical disability, medical information, and genetic condition.

“It is the intent of the Legislature to ameliorate bias-based injustice in the courtroom,” the bill said.

Author Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D) calls this bill the “B.I.A.S. Act,” which stands for Breaking Implicit Attitudes and Stereotypes in the Justice System.

“I’m certainly hopeful that implicit bias is getting its time in the sun,” Kamlager-Dove said. “For so long people have talked about bias and don’t talk about implicit bias so it gets lost in conversations about racism, sexism, prejudice, and explicit bias.”

Kamlager-Dove, who also is backing bills on implicit bias in health care and police, said implicit bias training is being talked about in a number of states as it relates to law enforcement.

“But we have not seen a bill like this in other states as it specifically relates to court personnel, judges, and attorneys and we do believe we are at the forefront of this conversation,” Kamlager-Dove said.

Implicit bias can be unlearned, said Lisa Holder, outside counsel to the Equal Justice Society in Oakland, and a civil rights lawyer in Los Angeles. It’s a concept that’s increasingly recognized in courts and in legal opinions.

“There’s still friction but the point is most judges have now been exposed to the concept so it doesn’t seem like some sort of mysterious, taboo notion any more. It’s become much more normalized,” said Holder, who teaches the Civil Rights Clinic at University of California Los Angeles Law School and is an adjunct professor at Occidental College.

The mandatory implicit bias training San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow began for pro tem judges in his state court has taken off in other jurisdictions.

The implicit biases buried in the brain means people jump to conclusions as short cuts. “And my sense was I could teach implicit bias that everyone understands that it is common, it’s an issue frequently, and it needs to be dealt with,” Karnow said.

The training includes exercises “in a way that people can buy in to implicit bias without getting offended,” Karnow said.

The Judicial Council established a work group on preventing discrimination and harassment to address issues in courts, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in her State of the Judiciary address to lawmakers. Implicit bias training is already mandatory for all council employees.

“By this summer, we expect the work group to come to the Judicial Council with recommendations to make our judicial work environment safer, fairer, and more respectful,” Cantil-Sakauye said in March.

The bar already requires one hour of recognition and elimination of bias as part of each lawyer’s required 25 total hours every three years.

The new attorney training program started last year applies to all attorneys admitted after Feb. 1, 2018. It includes four hours of legal ethics and 1.5 hours on recognition and elimination of bias in the legal profession.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Crawley at; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at