Judith W. Rogers, the chief judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals, announced yesterday the formation of two task forces to examine the problems of racial and ethnic and sex bias in the District court system.
"The effort to maintain impartiality can never be a passive one," Rogers said in a speech at the 15th annual D.C. Judicial Conference at the Hyatt Regency Washington. "Rather, it must often entail an active program of critical self-examination."
Superior Court Judge Annice M. Wagner, who is about to be sworn in as an Appeals Court judge, will head a task force that will focus on sex bias in the courts. The other task force, which will explore racial and ethnic bias, will be headed by Appeals Court Judge William C. Pryor.
Both panels will also include other judges, lawyers and other interested parties, according to a statement from the D.C. Court Joint Committee on Judicial Administration.
Nearly 30 states have established task forces to investigate bias in the court system in the last five years.
The mission of the D.C. task forces will be to "examine the courts to identify where gender and racial and ethnic bias may exist and to develop recommendations to assist the courts in eliminating any such bias," Rogers said.
The task forces also will assess "public perceptions of bias," and seek to identify "existing areas of disparate treatment," according to the court statement.
The D.C. Bar has also studied the issue and reported "some problems and perceptions that it found to exist," according to Rogers.
"Fortunately, our courts do not face a number of the problems that exist in other court systems," she said.
But, she added, "The Joint Committee does not suppose that our courts are free of all problems that have been identified in courts in other jurisdictions."
In addition to Wagner, Superior Court Judges Henry H. Kennedy Jr., A. Franklin Burgess and Colleen Kollar-Kotelly will serve on the sex bias task force. Other members include former U.S. attorney Charles F.C. Ruff, former public defender Michelle A. Roberts and other lawyers and academics.
The racial and ethnic bias task force will include Judges Harriet R. Taylor, Ricardo M. Urbina and Truman A. Morrison III, former D.C. corporation counsel Frederick Cooke and Keith W. Watters, president of the Washington Bar Association.
The task forces, which will work cooperatively, will submit an interim report to the Joint Committee in March 1991 and a final report the following September. They are planning to assemble information through interviews, forums, surveys and other means, according to a statement.