The Utah Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Legal System
was established by the Judicial Council on March 6, 1996 to examine issues
of racial and ethnic fairness within Utah’s criminal justice system. The
Task Force is chaired by Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Zimmerman. There
are two co-chairs, Third District Court Judge Tyrone E. Medley and John
T. Nielsen, senior counsel for Intermountain Health Care. The
Task Force membership, approved by the Judicial Council, has thirty members.
Members include representatives from all aspects of the criminal justice
system, including judges, law enforcement officials, prosecution and defense
attorneys, corrections officials, and juvenile corrections officers. The
Task Force also has significant representation from Utah’s communities
of color. All of the members are influential in their respective organizations
and are supportive of the Task Force objectives. Members are listed below.
|Daniel J. Becker, State Court Administrator
Paul W. Boyden, Statewide Assn. of Prosecutors
Susan V. Burke, Governor’s Commission on
Criminal & Juvenile Justice
Reverend France A. Davis, Calvary Baptist Church
Judge Lynn W. Davis, Fourth District Court
David Dominguez, BYU, College of Law
Christine Fox-Finlinson, Callister Nebeker &
James Gillespie, Northern Utah Community
E. Neal Gunnarson, Salt Lake District Attorney
H.L. "Pete" Haun, Utah Department of Corrections
F. John Hill, Salt Lake Legal Defenders Association
Judge Glenn K. Iwasaki, Third District Court
Sheriff Aaron D. Kennard, Salt Lake County Sheriff
|Donna Land Maldonado, KRCL Community Radio
Dan Maldonado, Division of Youth Corrections
Charlotte L. Miller, President, Utah State Bar
Haruko T. Moriyasu, University of Utah, Asian
Judge Jody Petry, Uintah County Justice Court
Lorena P. Riffo, Division of Corporations
Michael R. Sibbett, Utah Board of Pardons & Parole
Senator Pete Suazo
Dean Lee E. Teitelbaum, University of Utah, College of
Judge William A. Thorne, Third District Court
Filia H. Uipi, Attorney at Law
Judge Andrew A. Valdez, Third District Juvenile Court
Judge W. Brent West, Second District Court
Jeanetta Williams, Salt Lake Chapter NAACP
The mission statement of the Task Force was developed by its members through an involved process of consensus. As the membership of the Task Force was created with diversity of perspective in mind, there is considerable difference of opinion about the existence of bias within our criminal justice system. Opinion varies from those who believe that bias on the basis of race and ethnicity does not exist in the criminal justice system to those who are offended by the mere insinuation that racial and ethnic bias might not exist. The wording of this mission statement takes into account these differences and thus has gained the approval of every member of the Task Force. The mission is as follows:
The primary activities of the Task Force shall include:
1. Research: The identification and utilization of appropriate research methods, the collection and evaluation of the data to determine the extent to which race and ethnicity affect the dispensation of justice through explicit bias and implicit institutional practices. Methods may include, but are not limited to, the utilization of prior studies, surveys, public hearings, focus groups, and the evaluation of existing policies.
2. Findings: The publishing of findings of the data gathered as a result of the Task Force’s assessment. Findings will be published in a final report to the Judicial Council, with preliminary findings available via interim progress reports to the Judicial Council.
3. Recommendations: The creation and publishing of recommendations for all aspects of the legal system, including appropriate agencies, community groups, and private citizens to ensure equal access to justice. Recommendations shall include appropriate strategies for implementation as recommended by the Task Force.
4. Partnerships: The development of partnerships both in the legal system and in the broader community to assist in the efforts of the task force to include a broad cross-section of Utah’s communities, particularly its ethnic minority communities, both in the fulfillment of its mission and in ensuring the implementation of its findings.
Preliminary activities to begin the Task Force took approximately one year. Those activities included the establishment of the Task Force’s official membership, seeking adequate funding for its initial activities, and the recruiting and hiring of a director.
The Task Force held its first monthly meeting on May 21, 1997. The National Center for State Courts sent a representative to assist the Task Force in developing and focusing its agenda, as well as providing historical information to members about task forces and commissions in other states. Jennifer M.J. Yim was hired on August 1, 1997 to serve as the Task Force director. Ms. Yim is employed half-time at the Administrative Office of the Courts. Funding for her position and the Task Force’s activities during its first year have come from the State Justice Institute, the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Utah Bar Foundation, the Herbert I. and Elsa B. Michael Foundation, and the Ruth Eleanor Bamberger and John Ernest Bamberger Memorial Foundation.
In the Fall of 1997, the Task Force focused its efforts on organizational issues. The first order of business included mission statement development. The Task Force then determined a subcommittee structure, subcommittee leadership and membership. The subcommittees began to meet near the beginning of 1998.
During the winter, the Task Force conducted several educational sessions
for task force and committee members.
||Research Agendas of Other States’ Task Forces
-- Presented by staff.
|January||Introduction to Research Methods workshop
-- Presented by Lois M. Haggard, Ph.D., a social scientist with survey research expertise.
Racial Data in Existing Justice System Databases panel discussion
|March||Criminal Law & Procedure introductory workshop
-- Presented by Salt Lake attorneys, Gregory G. Skordas and Scott W. Reed.
These workshops were created to enhance the knowledge and skills of task force and committee members to complete the mission of the Task Force. Members have also received baseline data about the current status of minorities in the criminal justice system. All education has been offered either by staff or via donated services by Utah attorneys or research experts.
The success of the Task Force relies in large part on the ability to secure adequate resources to fulfill our mission. For that reason, efforts to secure assistance of all types have been and will continue to be a primary focus.
Several volunteers have begun to assist the different subcommittees with staffing assistance. These volunteers are Utah attorneys and law students who are interested in issues of racial and ethnic fairness. Each has committed to spend approximately 20 hours per month for the duration of the Task Force, conducting background research and assisting co-chairs. To secure the participation of these volunteers, the Task Force sent out background information and a position description to several universities and to a list of inactive members of the Bar in several counties along the Wasatch Front.
Fund Raising Efforts
Due to a necessity to request an opinion from the Ethics Advisory Committee, the Task Force was precluded from any fund raising activities from until March 9, 1998. For this reason, the Task Force has been unable to solicit the funds necessary to conduct research for the second year of the Task Force. If additional funding is not secured, all existing sources of funds will be exhausted by August 1, 1998.
Current fund raising efforts targeting local and national sources are underway. Entities that have or will receive requests for funding include: the Utah State Bar Commission, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, the State Justice Institute, and many local foundations. The Task Force has also convened a Fund Raising Committee, composed largely of Operations Committee members. The Fund Raising Committee is chaired by John T. Nielsen and its members are Susan V. Burke, Dean Lee E. Teitelbaum, and Daniel J. Becker. Charlotte L. Miller will join the Fund Raising Committee as of July 1, 1998.
The Task Force received initial media attention shortly after it was commissioned by the Judicial Council. In April 1998, the Task Force invited members of the print media, including Utah’s ethnic media, to attend its Task Force meeting. The April date for media contact was selected to allow time for the Task Force to complete its organizational work before launching its outreach efforts to the community. Two articles from that media effort were published, one in the Salt Lake Tribune and one in the Deseret News. The Task Force received media coordination assistance and expertise from Jan Thompson, Communications Director at the Administrative Office of the Courts. Print media will be informed of all future meetings to encourage public involvement in and knowledge of the Task Force.
In addition, Judge Tyrone E. Medley has written an article for the "View From the Bench" section of the Utah Bar Journal. The article will be published in the May edition of the periodical. Other information has been submitted to the Utah Minority Bar Association for their newsletter.
The Task Force director has made significant efforts to announce the existence of the Task Force to community groups, with an emphasis on Utah’s minority communities. Ms. Yim has spoken to the directors of the Governor’s Offices of Ethnic Affairs, to the Steering Committee of the Utah Hispanic Symposium, the Disproportionate Minority Confinement Committee, and the Utah Minority Bar Association. Upcoming presentations to the Ethnic Advisory Councils and the Utah State Bar Annual Conference are also scheduled.
The Task Force is in the process of creating a research agenda. Subcommittees are looking at existing data and information and developing a prioritized list of research questions. The Operations Committee will then develop an overall research agenda. This effort should be complete by June 1998.
The Task Force is soliciting funds to hire a Research Director. This position would be a part-time, contracted position that would be responsible for coordinating the research activities of the Task Force. The position would be one year in duration. The Research Director position would be filled via a request for proposal process which will ask potential contractors to propose a plan by which the Task Force would conduct its research. The position would likely be filled by a social science graduate student or a university faculty member. The Research Director would oversee the coordination and contractual processes of the research projects. The position would also provide expertise and overall guidance on research matters.
One type of research that the Task Force will almost certainly conduct is public hearings. Every state that has ever commissioned a task force on racial and ethnic issues has held public hearings as a method to determine the perception of bias in the system. These public hearings are also helpful to the other task force research efforts because the information gleaned from the public hearings can help frame issues and provide context to more complex issues. The Task Force hopes to conduct multiple public hearings across the state.
The Client Committee, co-chaired by Filia Uipi and Haruko Moriyasu, is taking the lead in determining the methods to be used in the public hearings and in planning the hearing themselves. A law student intern has been hired this summer to help coordinate the hearings.
The second year of the Task Force, beginning in the summer of 1998, will focus on conducting selected research projects to determine the existence and extent of real and perceived bias in Utah’s criminal justice system. The Task Force hopes to commission several large research studies. Research projects will be contracted out to social science research teams and overseen by the proposed Research Director. Examples of types of research could include:
Fund raising efforts by non-judicial members of the Task Force and Task Force staff will continue throughout the second year in order to secure adequate funding for the completion of the Task Force’s examination of racial and ethnic issues. Please see the Budget section for more funding information.
The final phase of the Task Force, as it was commissioned by the Judicial Council, is the writing of a final report. The report will document the Task Force’s research efforts, describe its work, its findings, and any resulting recommendations for criminal justice system improvement. The Task Force’s final report is anticipated during the summer of 1999.
While the final report can be seen as the culmination of the Task Force’s efforts, its members sincerely hope the report will merely signal the beginning of the work that may be done to improve the criminal justice system. Final reports will be issued to:
As mentioned above, the Task Force spent one year securing initial funding. Base funding of $52,000 comes from the State Justice Institute, which has supported a number of racial and ethnic fairness task forces around the country, and primarily supports the part-time director’s salary, with other funding for travel and contractual services, such as trainers and student interns.
Other financial support during Year One comes from the Administrative Office of the Courts (approximately $16,000 plus office space and staff time), the Utah Bar Foundation ($5,000), the Herbert I. and Elsa B. Michael Foundation ($4,000), and the Ruth Eleanor Bamberger and John Ernest Bamberger Memorial Foundation ($2,500). Funding from the Administrative Office covers office space, staff time, supplies, postage, telephone, and copying expenses. Total financial support for the first year of the Task Force is $79,500.
Other in-kind and pro bono support has been donated by attorneys, law students, and research experts. The National Center for State Courts has provided in-kind technical assistance by sending a staff member to assist in the initial Task Force meeting. In addition, task force and committee membership is voluntary and as it is state-wide, there are several members providing their own travel and accommodations from locations outside the Wasatch Front.
The second year of funding for the Task Force (FY 1999) will focus on research costs. The Task Force intends to solicit financial support from local foundations, businesses, and individuals. It is difficult to provide an exact estimate for research costs because cost depends largely upon specific project design. However the Task Force estimates it will require approximately $60,000 for research in the adult criminal justice system. These funds will be used to contract out the different projects to social science research teams. The Task Force also proposes to hire a part-time Research Director. To fund juvenile justice system research, the Task Force is in the process of applying for $48,925 in funding from the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
The Task Force is in the process of submitting an application for a continuation grant from the State Justice Institute. This funding request of $65,000 would cover existing staff, a student internship, and limited funds for research activities. Total Task Force expenses during Year Two are estimated at $195,000. None of these funds have been secured to date.
The Utah Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Legal System was created by the Judicial Council with the mission to examine the existence and extent of real and perceived bias within Utah’s criminal justice system. Its members, representatives from every aspect of the system, have dedicated themselves to conducting an honest inquiry without assumptions about what they will find.
This first year has been dedicated to the organizational aspects of the Task Force. To date, the Task Force has accomplished those elements of task force development that will help to ensure that its upcoming work will be of the highest possible quality. The ability of the Task Force to secure "buy in" both from its members and from the community is critical in securing support for implementation of any recommendations.
The second year of the Task Force will focus on the research that must be done in order to achieve our mission. Although the challenge of discussing racial issues is very real, the Task Force has achieved a strong start toward creating a process that will not only determine the existence and extent of real and perceived racial and ethnic bias but that will also address those issues with a view toward active implementation of resulting recommendations.
Since the writing of the Spring 1998 Interim Report, the Task Force has made progress in several areas. The Utah Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Legal System is pleased to provide the following information as an update through June 1998.
Subcommittee Progress Reports
The subcommittees to the Task Force have just completed their prioritized list of research topics and submitted them to the Operations Committee for review. The Operations Committee will spend time in July reviewing the lists and creating an overall research agenda. At the same time, subcommittees have begun the process of examining areas that can be researched without the support of the overall Task Force.
The Pre-Adjudication Committee has divided into work groups to examine the different aspects of the pre-adjudication segment of the criminal justice system. Three work groups will examine the following areas: 1) law enforcement recruitment, training, and workforce issues; 2) arrest, pre-trial release, incarceration, and pre-charging issues; and 3) police abuse complaints process and data collection issues. Current information gathering efforts will allow for in-depth review of these issues in July.
The Representation Committee is beginning its analysis by looking at the workforce composition of prosecutorial agencies around the state as well as legal defender offices and contracts around the state. This information will provide a basis for investigating other aspects of representation issues, such as the timing of appointment of counsel, the perceptions of counsel regarding issues of racial and ethnic fairness, and any impact of race or ethnicity on plea negotiations.
The Courts Committee is in the process of reviewing the judicial appointment process. Having reviewed the numbers of minority judges appointed to the bench in recent years, the Courts Committee is examining the judicial appointment process for its impact of minority appointments. The committee will receive a presentation on the history of judicial appointments and the current process in July.
The Post-Adjudication Committee has begun to examine data from the Utah Department of Corrections on issues related to the prison population, the probation population, the parole population, and the jail population. Many of these questions were posed to the Department of Corrections in May. In June, members of the Post-Adjudication Committee heard the response from Corrections regarding statistics on length of stay, probation violations, disciplinary issues for prisoners, language capabilities of Corrections staff, and other issues related to people of color. The response by Corrections will begin a further process of independent review of the data and a more in-depth look into areas where the data show the potential for racial and ethnic bias.
The Client Committee is working to develop and hold a number of public hearings across the state. Having provided a preliminary public hearing in the Polynesian community, with the help of the Office of Polynesian Affairs and the Polynesian Advisory Council, the Task Force has made a beginning attempt at accessing communities of color to listen to their experiences in the criminal justice system. The committee is now focusing on the Hispanic community and will hold a number of hearings across the state to hear the experiences of Utah’s largest ethnic minority community.
Community Resources Committee
The Community Resources Committee is in the process of assembling a survey to send to a sample of treatment providers in Utah. The survey will attempt to discover information about the workforce diversity of treatment provider staff, the cultural appropriateness of treatment, the numbers of minorities seen in treatment, and other issues.
The Juvenile Committee has created a list of priorities that roughly mirrors the different segments of the adult Task Force’s subcommittees. The AOC has submitted a request to the Commission of Criminal and Juvenile Justice and the Juvenile Justice Board for funding to conduct research on minority and juvenile justice issues. Members on the Juvenile Committee will be an integral part of the designing and execution of this proposed research.
As mentioned above, the Task Force is in the process of creating its overall research agenda. The Task Force is also in the process of hiring a Research Director to assist in the formulation and design of that agenda. Assisted by $20,000.00 in support from the Utah Bar Commission, the Task Force is able to begin the process of contracting with a research director to begin the research phase of the Task Force. A request for proposal process to identify the skills and resources that a director of research could bring to the Task Force is currently in process. The request for proposals will be issued in early July. Any individual interested in receiving a copy of the rfp should contact the task force director (see below).
Fund raising for the second year of the Task Force has centered around basic staff funds and research funds. The AOC has submitted a request to the State Justice Institute for $65,000 for continuation funding. This funding would provide for the salary of the part-time director and some funds for research and public hearings. Other applications for research have been submitted to the Utah Bar Foundation and the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
As mentioned above, the Utah Bar Commission has generously provided its support of the Task Force with an award of $20,000 in funding to hire a Research Director.
During the months of May, June, and July, the Task Force is pleased to have the assistance of two law student interns. Yvette Diaz, a law student at Brigham Young University’s Law School, was selected from among several candidates as a paid summer intern for the Task Force. Ms. Diaz is bilingual in Spanish and English, has extensive experience in working with community groups, and has shown an interest in the Task Force since its inception. She is a co-chair of the Provo Multi-Ethnic Gang Task Force and is involved in numerous community projects to help Utah’s ethnic communities. Ms. Diaz is spending the bulk of her time coordinating many of the public hearings for the Task Force.
Tricia Smedley, a law student at the University of Idaho’s College of Law, is a full time intern for eight weeks this summer. She will be receiving school credit for her participation in the Task Force. Ms. Smedley is spending her time doing research for several of the Task Force’s subcommittees. Her internship is allowing her to explore the public interest law and work within a government agency.
Both students have just completed their second year of law school. The Task Force is very pleased to have their assistance and support during the summer months.
Additional information about the Task Force or questions about the Task Force should be directed to Jennifer MJ Yim, Task Force Director, at the Administrative Office of the Courts, 450 South State Street, P.O. Box 140241, Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-0241, (801) 578-3976.