Procedures for Filing Bias Related Complaints Involving Judges & Employees of the NEW YORK STATE COURT SYSTEM

Procedures for Filing Bias Related Complaints Involving Judges & Employees of the NEW YORK STATE COURT SYSTEM 1

Report of the Committee on Women and the Courts
Committee Chair: Justice Rosalyn Richter

The NYS Court System has established both formal and informal procedures for the prompt investigation and resolution of claims of discrimination based on race, sex (including sexual harassment), color, national origin, religion, creed, sexual orientation, age, marital status and disability. 

FORMAL COMPLAINTS BY EMPLOYEES and NON-EMPLOYEES

A formal complaint can be filed by any UCS employee, person conducting business in the courthouse or any person participating in a court case. There is no requirement that the person filing the complaint be an employee, but the subject of the complaint must be a judge or non-judicial employee. To file a formal complaint, the complainant can request a Claim of Discriminatory Treatment form and procedure manual (either by telephone or in writing) from:

Desiree Kim, Esq.
Special Inspector General for Bias Matters
New York State Unified Court System
25 Beaver Street, New York, NY 10004
646-386-3507
A copy of the complaint form and instructions also can be obtained from the Unified Court System’s website at: www.courts.state.ny.us. The completed form can be sent to Ms. Kim at the address noted above.

Ms. Kim is the Special Inspector General (SIG) for Bias Related Matters for the Unified Court System. Her office, which was created in the fall of 1998, is responsible for the investigation of all formal discrimination complaints filed with the UCS statewide. Information concerning a pending investigation is kept confidential by her office to the fullest extent practicable. After the investigation is concluded, Ms. Kim and her staff will prepare a confidential final report that contains the findings of the investigation and a recommendation such as employee re-training, formal counseling and/or appropriate disciplinary action. Such disciplinary action includes, but is not limited to termination of employment.

A copy of the investigative report and recommendation is sent to the Administrative Judge of the court where the named subject is employed. The Administrative Judge will adopt or modify the recommendation in the Special Inspector General’s report and forward the documents to Judge Joan Carey, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for the NYC Courts, or to Judge Joseph Traficanti, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for the Courts Outside NYC. The Deputy Chief Administrative Judge will issue a final decision and notify both the complainant and the respondent of the result.

The decision of the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge may be appealed to Chief Administrative Judge, Jonathan Lippman. This appeal must be in writing.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Bias Related Matters will not accept or investigate anonymous or informal complaints. The office will make every effort to ensure that no retaliatory action is taken against anyone who files a complaint.

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INFORMAL COMPLAINTS BY EMPLOYEES ONLY 

The Office of the Inspector General for Bias Related Matters Complements, but is separate from the Workforce Diversity Office (formerly the EEO office). The Workforce Diversity Office is responsible for the UCS Anti-Discrimination Panel Program.

For a brochure describing the Anti-Discrimination Panel Program, contact:

Alice M. Chapman
Administrator, Workforce Diversity Office
NYS Unified Court System
25 Beaver St., Rm. 1009, New York, NY 10024
212-428-2540

The Panel Program is an informal, alternative complaint procedure that is only available to UCS employees to address and resolve claims of bias, discrimination and sexual harassment as it relates to their employment. The general public, attorneys who are not court employees and others cannot use this procedure. Rather, they must utilize the formal procedure outlined above.

The Anti-Discrimination Panels consist of judges and non-judicial employees who have received special training on handling bias complaints and the applicable law. Panel members will speak to a complainant on an informal basis to help sort out the problem and to discuss possible options for resolving the situation. All discussions with panel members are kept as confidential as possible. However, panel members will advise the complainant that complete confidentiality is not always possible because of certain legal requirements. They also will inform the complainant that a request for complete confidentiality may restrict the range of available options especially if the complainant wants the UCS to take appropriate action against the respondent. A panel member can accept a verbal complaint. Panel members also will accept anonymous complaints. However, they are discouraged as anonymity may limit the extent to which action can be taken.

In all instances, after the panel member has an initial meeting with the complainant, the panel member must contact Ms. Chapman to discuss the situation prior to advising the complainant of any available options that may exist to correct the situation. Depending on the information that is conveyed to Ms. Chapman, she will make a decision whether the matter can be handled informally through the panel program or should be forwarded to the Special Inspector General for Bias Matters for her formal consideration.

If Ms. Chapman determines that the matter can be handled informally, she will discuss the appropriate action to be taken with the panel member. This can include the panel member meeting the respondent employee and/or the panel member requesting counseling of the respondent by the employee’s supervisor. The panel member will discuss the recommended actions with the complainant, and a written report documenting the complaint and the outcome will be prepared by the panel member and submitted to Ms. Chapman.

Recently, revised posters were distributed and posted in each court advising employees of the names of the Anti-Discrimination Panel members for that court. This information was not posted in public locations such as courthouse lobbies and hallways because this program is available only to UCS employees. Any court employee who does not know the names of the panel members in his/her court can contact the Chief Clerk’s Office for this information or they can contact Ms. Chapman at the telephone number listed above. 

In a few courts, Anti-Discrimination Panel members have been approached by non-employees, who informally want to speak to someone about a possible complaint involving a court employee or a judge. Panel members are encouraged to refer these individuals to the appropriate Administrative Judge’s Office, to the Chief Clerk’s Office for that court, or to the Special Inspector General for Bias Related Matters as the UCS does not have an informal procedure for non-employees. In some courts, panel members have tried to assist non-employees by confidentially listening to their concerns, but ultimately must refer the complainant to the appropriate office since the panel member cannot resolve this type of complaint.

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OTHER COMMITTEES/AGENCIES

In some counties, the members of Gender Bias/Gender Fairness Committees will assist a non-employee with a complaint based on gender. These committees are not part of the Workforce Diversity Office, but were created more than a decade ago as part of a comprehensive program to address gender bias issues. The committees are comprised of judges, non-judicial employees and members of the community. The members of these committees will assist employees and non-employees in referring them to the appropriate complaint procedures, including those described above. For more information on the work of these committees, contact the New York Judicial committee on Women in the Courts, 212-428-2794.

Although the Office of the Inspector General for Bias Related matters will accept written complaints against judges, individuals also can submit a formal complaint to: The Commission on Judicial Conduct, 801 Second Ave., 13 fl., New York, NY 10017, 212-949-8860.

Complaints to the Judicial Conduct Commission must involve an alleged violation of law, or a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct or the Rules of the Chief Administrator. The current Code of Judicial Conduct and the Rules prohibit judges from manifesting bias by words or conduct. Judges also are obligated to ensure that their staff and other individuals subject to their direction and control refrain from manifesting any form of bias.

It also violates the Code of Professional Responsibility, which covers all attorneys in the state, for a lawyer to engage in biased conduct. Formal complaints against attorneys who are employees of the court system or who practice law in state courts can be filed with the Departmental Disciplinary Committee where the attorney is admitted to practice. The address and further information about the disciplinary committee complaint procedures can be obtained from the Appellate Division.

— June 2000

The Committee met with representatives of the NYS Unified Court System, Office of Court Administration (OCA) in an effort to understand the structure for filing bias complaints against judges and non-judicial employees. As a result of those meetings and other information conveyed to the committee, this report was prepared. This report does not discuss any changes the Committee may wish to propose, but rather was prepared to help educate the bar, litigants and the general public about the structure that now is in place. The Committee thanks the OCA staff who took the time to meet with us during the preparation of this report.

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