by Hon. Deneise Turner Lott
Through a Glass Darkly
I recently ate a piece of humble pie. It was not my first and surely will not be my last comeuppance, but I did not see it coming.
I know that a customer service survey should include responses from actual customers. Just as I know, instinctively, that a committee to promote gender equity should include the gender seeking equity. So I should have known that a council to promote cultural diversity in the workplace is best led by those who are culturally diverse. I did not, at least not at first glance.
In this instance, my myopia is mostly the result of a singular perspective. Even the most intuitive, intelligent, and talented among us has but one lens through which to view the world. The limitations of that lens and its role as a filter of all our perceptions cannot be overstated.
The risks posed by the limitations of a single lens are higher for judges because of the work we do and the power we wield. Judges decide cases based on the facts in evidence and the applicable law. But when sifting facts, interpreting the law, and making judgements, we engage in balancing tests, fashion “reasonable person” standards, and determine community norms. All of these exercises involve value judgments based on our life experiences.
The fact that we make value judgments when “doing justice” explains why diversity is not a superficial optic for the judiciary. We are all the product of our education, experiences, age, race, gender, and geography, among myriad other factors. And studies show we all believe we can render judgments that are objective, impartial, and correct. Studies also show we tend to trust those who share our background and appearance. So we are more likely to trust a judiciary that includes judges who mirror our background and appearance. It is only human nature to wonder why the people in power on a bench may not look like us.
Too, as demonstrated by my personal example above, diversity in perspective and representation achieves more than the perception of fairness. There is no substitute for the wisdom born of personal experience. Although I have been mistaken for witnesses and court reporters by various court personnel over the years, and I was once denied access to a courtroom by an otherwise gracious woman in a county clerk’s office because “courtrooms are reserved for judges,” I have not personally experienced bias because of my race or national origin. Had I ever been on the receiving end of a such an encounter, I would have been more attuned to the obvious need to include culturally diverse voices when addressing the merits of culturally diverse workplaces.
Fortunately, I realized the limitations of my lens in time to broaden the council’s composition during the planning stage. Prospective members will include those who can not only sympathize, but empathize with the benefits of a culturally diverse workplace. Another lesson learned. Hopefully, we will be wiser for it.
Building on the need to be culturally sensitive is Judge Culbreth’s excellent article on mediating during a pandemic via telephone or video conferencing, especially when language barriers impede communication and translators are involved. Judge Culbreth’s pointers apply to all forms of communication, but they are especially salient if, as anticipated, parties continue to mediate virtually or by telephone, rather than in person, after the pandemic.
Judge David Langham’s article on “Repose and Limitations in COVID” raises more questions than answers – not surprising since the mysteries of COVID-19 continue to unfold and perplex the scientist, citizen, regulator, and adjudicator alike. For example, when does a statute of limitation begin to run on a claim for long COVID-19 when the worker’s virus was asymptomatic and detected only later through the presence of antibodies? When did the employee know or when should the employee have known that symptoms were a product of COVID-19 or that work likely caused or significantly contributed to exposure of the virus?
A lot less complicated and easier to digest is the New Judges’ Boot Camp 12-hour program which can be found on-line until September 2021. For more information on how to access the webinar and handouts, please see details within from Boot Camp Chairperson, Judge Pam Johnson.
In the meantime, please stay safe and follow CDC Guidelines so we can leave this pandemic in the dust and return full throttle to football games, “live” conferences, and holiday cocktail parties before year’s end. I am ready!
Judge Lott’s look alike legacy as pictured here in her daughter and baby granddaughter!