Remarks by Hon. Bonnie J. Mizdol, A.J.S.C. Diversity In the Profession Awards Dinner, June 24, 2021

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share in tonight’s program honoring United States Magistrate Ed Kiel and Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor, Karen Gwynn – both of whom have distinguished themselves in every walk of life. It is truly my privilege.

It is also my privilege to lead the Bergen Judiciary – a judiciary dedicated to the principles of fairness, equality, courtesy, and respect for all individuals.

It has been along time since I’ve had the opportunity to speak to you from an in-person podium and not on a Zoom Platform. It feels great.

I hope that at another soon to be in-person gathering, I will have the privilege of swearing in Bergen’s first Asian American judge, Julie Kim.

I now want to speak of several Supreme Court Committees that exist with a goal to “rid the court of all vestiges of bias and discrimination, and to place uniform protocols in place to achieve those goals.”
-The Supreme Court Committee on Minority Concerns;
-The Supreme Court Advisor Committee on Access and Fairness and
-The Supreme Court Committee on Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement

I am proud to state that Bergen has membership representation on all.

I am also proud to share that just one month ago, I, along with 5 other judges and 4 administrators from Bergen attended the National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts. The conference was designed to address the role of the courts in ensuring equal protection, due process, and access to justice in the 21st century. It remains a work in progress in Bergen.

Since we last met, our Supreme Court issued an Order amending our continuing legal education requirements to ensure that in every two year period, at least two of the five hours of credit we take in ethics and/or professionalism shall be focused on issues of diversity, inclusion and elimination of bias.

Take a look at RPC 8.4 – It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage, in a professional capacity, in conduct involving discrimination because of race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, language, marital status, socioeconomic status or handicap, where the conduct is intended or likely to cause harm.

As judges, lawyers and citizens we are deeply saddened and angered at the confluence of recent events in our country that have revealed how much more we need to do to create a just, fair, and peaceful society.

We must do more than express our feelings of sadness and anger.

As judges, we must look afresh at what we are doing, or failing to do, to root out any conscious and unconscious bias in our courtrooms; to ensure that the justice provided to all is the same; and to create in our courtrooms (our corner of the world) a place where all are truly equal.

As lawyers, you too must also look at what you are doing, or failing to do, to provide legal assistance to those who cannot afford it; to diminish the economic and environmental inequalities arising from race; and to ensure that your law offices not only hire attorneys of color or attorneys from the LGBTQ community, but also truly welcome them into the legal community.

We, collectively, need to commit ourselves to the systemic change needed to make equality under the law an enduring reality for all.

There is nothing easy about any of this. It will be uncomfortable: it will involve difficult conversations, challenging introspection, and hard decisions. We must recognize and address our own biases, conscious and unconscious. We must recognize and condemn racism and discrimination involving every community when we see it in our daily lives.

We must become culturally competent and challenge the untruths and unfair stereotypes that have been used to justify or rationalize repression.

At the diversity conference I attended last month, one of the speakers said you can liken cultural competency to receiving an invitation to the dance, but to reach inclusion you must actually be asked to dance.

Today is a time for solidarity and fellowship.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

I assure you that the Bergen Judiciary and courthouse staff will continue through dialogue and continued educational training to thoughtfully address and remain true and accountable to the core principles of fairness, equality, courtesy, and respect for all individuals.

Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to partake in this celebration of  diversity, inclusion and elimination of bias.