Phoenix, AZ– Justice at Stake and Arizona Advocacy Network launched a new project to address fair courts and judicial diversity at a kickoff event and luncheon in Phoenix yesterday.The event featured former Arizona Supreme Court Justice, Ruth McGregor; Chief Presiding Judge at Phoenix Municipal Court, Roxanne Song Ong; Attorney James Christian, and Linda Benally, President-elect of the National Native American Bar Association. Lisa Loo, Deputy General Counsel at Arizona State University, acted as moderator.
The new project is an initiative of Arizona Advocacy Network, Justice at Stake, the State Bar of Arizona, Los Abogados, and other groups. The goal is to promote a strong and vibrant judiciary that reflects the diversity of Arizona’s population, and to strengthen Arizona’s judicial merit selection system.
Elizabeth Fujii, Justice at Stake’s Deputy Director for Federal Affairs and Diversity Initiatives, said “Justice at Stake is thrilled to kick off this project with support from over 20 groups coming from the legal community, business, labor and civic engagement. Together we can realize a fully diverse judiciary that achieves our highest aspirations for fairness and excellence.”
Former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ruth McGregor led the event as keynote speaker.
“Based on my own experiences and on the research that examines the impact of diversity on the bench that greater diversity on the bench actually results in better judicial decision-making, particularly on appellate courts, where decisions reflect the combined decision of a panel or court,” McGregor said.
With a highly diverse population and legal community, Arizona has the potential to lead the country in increasing diversity on the state bench. Through education, outreach and mentoring, the program will encourage a wide range of exceptionally qualified lawyers and law students to consider and pursue a career as a judge.
Linda Benally, President-Elect of National Native American Bar Association, touched on the concerns of the Native American Community when it comes to diversity on the bench.
“By law, many disputes involving Native Americans must be heard in federal court, yet there is not a Native American on the federal bench. This lack of diversity on the federal judiciary is felt profoundly throughout the Native American legal community and throughout Indian Country,” Benally said.
James Christian, an attorney for Tiffany and Bosco, P.A. as well as an advocate for the LGBTQ community said, “Diversity within Arizona’s judiciary is essential to the operation of our courts. Not only does it increase public confidence in our judiciary, it ensures just and equitable outcomes in litigation. Justice at Stake should be commended for shining its light on Arizona and continuing this necessary dialogue within our community.”
The Arizona Judicial Diversity Project will hold community conversations about Fair and Diverse Courts, as well as organize mentoring and coaching programs to build a pipeline of highly qualified potential judges and encourage those from underrepresented backgrounds to envision themselves as future state judges.