How We Got Here
In 2020 a lot of national news focused on issues of racial bias, violence against people of color, and civil unrest. I want to remember some of the victims of 2020 in the hopes that you too will never forget them: George Floyd, Briana Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, and Elihah McCain, or people who died needlessly in acts of racially motivated and racially biased violence. There were also several tragic cases of trans people of color being killed too, including Tony McDade, a transgender man from Tallahassee, Florida; Rhia Milton, a black transgender woman in Liberty Township, Ohio; Dominique ‘Rem’mie Fells, a black transgender woman in Philadelphia; and Brayla Stone, a black transgender girl in Sherwood, Arkansas. Although these people died needlessly due to bias and hate, they have not died in vain because their names will forever be associated with a new hope. We remember them through sustained education and new policies that teach us to acknowledge our history of racial and ethnic unfairness. We must learn how to become trailblazers who support the values through education related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
During the five years that preceded the pandemic, I was primarily focused on helping our court move from a 100+ year-old courthouse to a new state-of-the-art courthouse being built on the Portland waterfront. I attended NACM conferences and continued to be involved in the Conference Development and Communications committees. I was invited to join the Multnomah Circuit Court Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee in 2015 and assisted with planning courtwide educational sessions and events.
Portland hosted the 2017 NACM midyear conference. I considered applying for the board but was overwhelmed with technical infrastructure planning for the new courthouse. I told board members that I’d consider applying for a board position in 2020.
In March of 2020, the pandemic hit. We not only needed to continue our move to a new courthouse, but also needed to provide the infrastructure and technical support for our large staff and 56 judicial officers to work from both home and the office. When George Floyd was killed on May 25 people took the streets of Portland in protest. In the coming days, then weeks, then years that followed, Portland saw unparalleled violence in the streets. Many of our court staff were still required to come to work on-site, including many of my technical staff who were configuring and installing equipment in the new courthouse.
Even though I was working on-site during this period, I was frequently physically isolated and socially distanced from others. I thought more about my future and my involvement in NACM, but I began to wonder if NACM was the place for me. Even though I am the IT manager of our court, I was involved more and more in DEI education from 2015 to 2020. I wasn’t sure where NACM stood on these issues. I was unaware of the sociopolitical makeup of this national organization or more specifically its board. I was a bit nervous about committing to a minimum three-year board position with the uncertainty about whether the organization shared my values and commitment to DEI education in the courts.
In 2020 then NACM President Will Simmons started a discussion with the board that resulted in a Resolution in Support of Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Then, in the late spring of 2020 I received an email from NACM announcing a Resolution in Support of Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. I sat in my office alone and read these words, included in a longer formal document, which still resonate with me today.
It was then I realized not only that this association was truly welcoming to all court professionals, but also that I wanted to be a part of its leadership. I applied for the board in 2021 and was selected for a board position in July at the annual conference. TJ BeMent delivered the State of the Profession Address and included these remarks:
In 2021 NACM announced the creation of a DEI Committee at their annual conference. The committee was chaired by TJ BeMent and vice chaired by Past President Will Simmons and myself. In the fall of 2021 NACM created the 2021-2026 strategic plan that included reviewing and revising their CORE curriculum to ensure that all the 13 competencies include elements of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their training materials. The NACM Mission and Vision was redrafted to be more inclusive and welcoming of all court professionals. The board committed to including a DEI educational track in all future conferences.
NACM continues to add Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as an educational track to their midyear and annual conference agendas. NACM works with the National Center for State Courts and their partner associations to encourage DEI awareness and education in the courts.
A National Court Initiative
In 2020 the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators (CCJ/COSCA) passed a Joint Resolution: In Support of Racial Equality and Justice for All in the state courts. They formed a working committee, provided training webinars and a resource library, and started work on the Racial Justice Organizational Assessment Tool for Courts. The National Center helped secure funding for continued work in this field and established a program known as the Blueprint for Racial Justice.
Also in 2020 the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Collaborative was formed, and 15 court associations signed a pledge to share approved information and content about our DEI initiatives. These 15 associations form what is known as the DEI Collaborative. The collaborative consists of one but not more than two representatives from each member organization. They meet regularly and convene annually at the national conference of one of its member organizations to identify joint projects for the upcoming year.
Court leaders frequently asked for a compass and guide to assist them with their DEI programs. The National Center for State Courts produced a Racial Justice Organizational Tool for Courts in response to CCJ/COSCA Joint Resolution 1, which was passed in 2020. The tool is comprehensive, research supported, data informed, and court tested.
The tool includes an assessment of judicial commitment, vision, and leadership. It helps identify the capacity for community-based learning and data-driven decision-making. It accesses the bench and court workforce, as well as equitable court services. Courts are encouraged to use several knowledgeable people within the organization to complete the assessment. The assessment results are anonymous, and only those involved in completing the assessment know the outcome. Court leaders can strategically apply the guidance provided in a post-assessment to propel their jurisdiction forward.
Where We Are Now and Hope to Be in the Future
In 2022 the NACM CORE Committee completed the review and revisions of all their CORE curricula and added diversity, equity, and inclusion elements as needed. The board also voted in 2022 to create a diversity, equity, and inclusion guide for the state courts. In 2023 the NACM Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Guide was published and unveiled at the NACM Annual Conference in Tampa, Florida.
The NACM DEI Guide is specifically for courts. It contains the collective expertise and wisdom of court professionals and certified diversity professionals who work in the courts. The guide has the seal of approval of the National Center for State Courts and the National Association for Court Management. It recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all and that courts are at different places on their DEI journey. It is a framework for having conversations and sets forth the business case for DEI in the courts. The guide covers current DEI terminology, concepts, and definitions and provides resources. The guide is meant to provide resources and support to those who have established DEI programs in their court. The guide is also meant to help develop and launch new DEI programs in courts that are just starting the conversation.
From the Guide
This guide was not constructed to suggest there is one, single linear direction to achieve DEI success in courts. Nor is this guide the end of the conversation on best practices in DEI initiatives in courts. It is, however, offered with the intent of providing a rich set of resources, ideas, and principles to allow the reader to identify a path that matches the needs of their court.
By engaging in this work: Courts foster public trust and confidence in the legal system, one of NACM’s CORE competencies. It promotes additional CORE competencies such as the advancement of procedural fairness and quality service in the administration of justice. DEI awareness, education, and practice help make better-informed decisions that advance justice for all individuals, regardless of their background.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Roger Rand is a member of the NACM Board and IT manager, Multnomah Circuit Court, Portland, Oregon.
Edwin Bell is director of racial justice, equity, and inclusion, National Center for State Courts.
Zenell Brown is a principal consultant and retired executive court administrator.