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Jeh Johnson Tapped by New York Courts to Lead Racial Bias Review

June 9, 2020, 9:09 PM

Attorney Jeh Johnson, a former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, will lead an independent review of the New York State Court System’s efforts to combat institutional racism.

Announced by New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore on Tuesday, the probe comes amid a national uproar over police brutality sparked by the in-custody death of a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis on May 25. Four officers have been charged in connection with the incident including Derek Chauvin, who faces counts of murder and manslaughter.

On a video that quickly went viral, Chauvin was seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes as the prone and handcuffed man cried he couldn’t breathe and soon died.

Johnson, a partner in Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison will serve as DiFiore’s Special Adviser on Equal Justice in the Courts.

“The death of George Floyd, and the issues it has brought into harsh focus, are a painful reminder of the repeated injustices and institutional racism that have long undermined the values and unity of our nation,” DiFiore said in a court system press statement.

With the help of court officials, Johnson will examine court practices and programs to ensure they’re free of bias. He also will review the system’s statewide policies that currently address race-bias issues with an eye toward revision and expansion as well as its bias education and training for both judges and non-judicial employees.

He’ll also provide recommendations based on those findings. That report will be issued by Oct. 1, according to the court system statement.

“This is an important assignment and I will answer the call with energy and dedication,” Johnson said in the same statement.

Johnson led the Homeland Security Department under President Barack Obama and had previously served as general counsel for the Department of Defense.

The New York State Bar Association applauded the initiative.

“In order to effect the kinds of institutional and cultural changes needed in our society to eradicate racism, we must continue to rethink all aspects of our justice system,” NYSBA President Scott M. Karson said in a statement.

The court system’s announcement comes as the New York State Legislature Monday and Tuesday acted on a criminal justice package that lawmakers said would help stop police brutality, address institutional racism, and help with the “healing process for minority communities that have been disproportionately targeted.”

It also follows the New York State Bar’s announcement that it would create a racial justice and police brutality task force to look into issues such as police transparency—including the use of body cameras—and oversight of police conduct.

California’s court system in January, well prior to the current protests, announced it was convening a working group to examine race bias in the jury selection process there earlier this year.

—With assistance from Keshia Clukey

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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