Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Anti-Bias Training Part of Judicial College’s Present and Past

Racial fairness has been the leading issue of protests in Ohio since the death of George Floyd in police custody four months ago. The Ohio Supreme Court’s Judicial College has made racial bias studies part of its curriculum for decades, so the renewed spotlight is bringing an extra measure of power to discussions about innate human biases.

“Every study that’s ever been done shows that we have biases,” said Second District Court of Appeals Judge Jeffrey Froelich.

A recent webinar conducted for the college by Judge Karen Arnold-Burger of the Kansas Court of Appeals analyzed how people’s brains process information.

In “Enhancing Justice, Reducing Bias,” Judge Arnold-Burger explained how researchers have determined that implicit bias exists, and how these inherent biases are being discussed in several areas of law, including criminal prosecution and defense.

The judge has explored the subject of human bias for 20 years.

“What we are trying to do is to get people to at least examine their mindset, to at least entertain the possibility that they have biases that are innate, and if left unchecked, those biases will prevent them from adhering to the oath they took when they took the bench,” said retired Cleveland Municipal Judge Ronald Adrine.

Adrine has been inspecting the internal workings of judges and those who come into contact with the justice system since the early ‘90s.

He was chair of the Ohio Commission on Racial Fairness, a collaboration between the Supreme Court and the Ohio State Bar Association. The commission produced a lengthy report in part detailing the difficulties of diagnosing intentional bias.

The study found a significant difference in case outcomes due to race.

“Minority groups found themselves consistently receiving the short end of the stick,” Adrine said.

Judge Arnold-Burger delved into perception, and how appearances, combined with bias, can be deceiving. She showed a slide of rapper Snoop Dogg, who is Black, on a cooking show with white celebrity Martha Stewart.

“Be mindful about stereotypes. Only one of them is a convicted felon, and it is not Snoop Dogg,” said Judge Arnold-Burger said, referencing Stewart’s insider-trading scandal in 2001.

Biases aren’t limited to race, gender, or personal history. They extend to superficial determinants, such as attractiveness. The lecture alluded to studies where subjects were more lenient when sentencing attractive individuals, even though the exact same crime was committed.

As a way to deter bias, each of the judges, in interviews, recommended a system to assess the internal influences of the justice system. One such method is a red-light analogy, where a decision or ruling can’t be made until there is a progression from red to yellow to green. In essence, a judge – or an attorney – would play devil’s advocate and scrutinize various possibilities of bias within an opposing argument.

Other kinds of awareness also are needed to prevent possible pitfalls. Experts say those can come from tracking case data and learning about those struggling in the community.

“This whole construct of procedural fairness is central to any kind of fairness [racial and other] that we should expect as we move forward,” Adrine said.