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January 28, 2002

Committee Will Accept Reports on Bias in Legal System

The Philadelphia Bar Association's Committee to Promote Fairness in the Philadelphia Legal System is inviting individuals who have knowledge of possible instances of bias in the legal system to confidentially report such information, so that the committee can examine and evaluate such reports.

The 14-member committee is seeking information about possible instances of bias relating to all classes of persons protected by the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance. Instances of possible bias should be reported only from the civil (and not the criminal) courts. These possible instances of bias include: race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation and disability. According to committee co-chairs Charisse R. Lillie and Francis P. Devine, beyond collecting, evaluating and disseminating information about bias in the legal system, the committee can also provide "an opportunity to mediate and/or conciliate differences among the individuals involved and take appropriate action." The committee can also disseminate information regarding instances of bias. Devine noted that whatever action is taken, "we have to be comfortable with the committee's procedures and the parties' willingness to participate." And Lillie added that "this is a new effort. It could be that many people simply are not aware that we are up and operating. So, we're getting the word out that we are here."

Persons who wish to report an instance or instances of bias can call Lillie at (215) 864-8204 or Devine at (215) 864-7033, or any one of the committee members as listed on the committee's Web site. Committee members can provide callers with intake forms to begin the examination and evaluation process. The same forms can be downloaded from the website. According to committee member Judy F. Berkman, the written intake forms can then be returned to the committee in a manner which ensures confidentiality. "Bias in the legal system, whether blatant, inadvertent, subtle, or systemic, can result in unfair case outcomes or perceptions that the legal system is not impartial," Berkman said. Once the forms are returned to the committee co-chairs or any of the members, or to the appropriate staff liaison person at the Bar Association, the filer's confidentiality will be respected and the process will begin.

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