California Lawyers Association

Advancing Racial Equity and Diversity in CLA, the Justice System, and Beyond

By President Emilio Varanini and 
Chair of the Board of Representatives Betty Williams

As we celebrate Black History Month, we take this opportunity to highlight the incredible work of CLA’s Racial Justice Committee and update you on the association’s efforts to advance racial equity and diversity within the organization, throughout the justice system, and beyond.

Racial Justice Committee Activities 

Led by Adrieannette Ciccone, Leif Dautch, Terrance Evans, and Marjaneh Maroufi, the Racial Justice Committee, formed last year in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, has organized more than two dozen Town Halls and education programs. 

Topics have included housing justice, race and the court system, and the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. Many programs were offered to lawyers and the public free of charge and involved collaborations with bar associations across the state. 

At the CLA Annual Meeting last fall, the committee leaders explored the role of attorneys in pursuit of racial and social justice, within and outside of their law firms. Watch the webinar here. The committee also collaborated with the Litigation Section on its special issue of California Litigation focused on racial justice and civil rights topics.

In an effort to promote learning and listening, the committee has compiled valuable resources on our website on topics such as allyship, anti-racism, disenfranchisement of voter rights, implicit bias, and intersectionality.

We look forward to conversations with state lawmakers about racial justice and other topics during our annual Legislative Day planned for April 14.

CLA Resolutions in the ABA House of Delegates

As the statewide bar association for California, CLA is continuing to pursue racial justice resolutions before the American Bar Association’s policy-making body, the House of Delegates, which helps set policies, goals, and norms for our profession and for the system in which we serve.

For example, we’re co-sponsoring Resolution 10F with the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice and the ABA Criminal Justice Section to address racial profiling at law enforcement traffic stops. 

To be considered at the ABA House of Delegates Mid-Year Meeting on Feb. 22, the resolution would urge federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments and police commissions to establish officer training aimed at educating officers on implicit bias and racial profiling, and to establish guidelines to be used by officers in giving exit orders during discretionary traffic enforcement stops where the officer has safety concerns or a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

The resolution would urge law enforcement to end or reduce the practice of forcing occupants out of a vehicle without reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred by encouraging guidelines and training designed to eliminate or reduce the circumstances under which an officer may order a driver or passenger to exit a vehicle during a traffic enforcement stop. 

This proposed resolution builds off our work last year at the ABA. CLA put forth what became the association’s first-ever resolution approved by the policymaking body of ABA, urging governments to pass anti-lynching legislation to “make it clear that such measures have no place in a system dedicated to the fair administration of justice and the rule of law.”

CLA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts

Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee is deeply committed to diversifying the profession and bench so access to justice can be achieved by all, and the profession mirrors the diversity in our state. 

Recently, we have debuted the Diverse Voices of the Legal Profession project, a series of short videos highlighting members who became successful lawyers, despite the obstacles they faced. We hope these videos inspire young people from a variety of backgrounds to consider legal careers. Read more here

The project grew out of our Diversity Outreach Advisory Committee, which creates opportunities for members to volunteer. The outreach committee is also working on supporting diversity pipeline organizations and creating mentorship opportunities with law students. 

As the statewide bar association, we are holding events that bring people together for important conversations about diversity, such as:

●      Diversity Stakeholder Convening on February 5, bringing together groups focused on enhancing judicial diversity.

●      The Judicial Appointment Process: What You Need to Know, February 19, featuring Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Judicial Appointments Secretary Luis Céspedes, Deputy Judicial Appointments Secretary Gonzalo C. Martinez, Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation Chair Aminder Singh, and two sitting judges. 

Internally, CLA continues to adopt policies and practices to ensure we are doing our part to create opportunities for diverse leaders. For example, we strongly look for, and require when possible, speakers who are non-male and people of color on our CLA-wide educational programs and webinars. We are working on a project to encourage greater participation of diverse authors in our publications.

Our Sections have stepped up to create fellowship and scholarship programs to support law students seeking careers in those practice areas.

As officers of the court, we want to be part of the solution when it comes to advancing racial justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Please reach out if you’d like to get involved. 

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