Communications Office:
David Bookstaver, Director
Mai Yee, Assistant Director
(212) 428-2500

Date: July 22, 2002

Seal of the Unified Court System
Report Tracks Progress of Women in the Courts Over Past 15 Years
NEW YORK - The New York State Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts, chaired by First Department Appellate Division Justice Betty Weinberg Ellerin, today released its 15-year report, chronicling the status of women in New York's courts and recommending steps towards improvement. The report concludes that many significant advances have been made in the way women are treated in our legal system but that significant issues of bias against women continue to exist.

In accepting the report, Chief Judge Judith Kaye stated, "I am heartened at the Committee's findings that there has been dramatic improvement for women in the courts over the past decade and a half. However, the Committee also has provided us with solid evidence of concerns we still must address, and we will do so. We are fully pledged to the attainment of gender fairness within the courts and are enormously grateful to Judge Ellerin and the Committee for their spotlight on this most important goal."

Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman said, "I congratulate all the Committee members on the significant strides made over the last 15 years towards the goal of making New York's courts bias-free. Indeed, where some might have been discouraged by existing laws, practices and attitudes, they have seen challenge and opportunity, insisting that the battle can and will be won. It is owing to this kind of dedication and commitment that we can be assured of further progress still ahead."

The focus on gender fairness in the courts began in 1984 when then-New York Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke appointed the New York State Task Force on Women in the Courts to examine the role and treatment of women in the courts. The task force conducted a two-year survey, concluding that gender bias was a reality in the state court system, and made recommendations to ensure fairness. The New York State Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts, originally chaired by Hon. Kathryn McDonald, was appointed to implement these recommendations. After examining efforts made by various constituencies of New York's court system and tangible signs of change, the Committee issued a report in 1996 concluding that although significant progress has been made, obstacles that men rarely confront still existed hindering women from pursuing their legal claims, careers and professions.

The Committee's newly released report chronicles advances since the creation of the 1984 task force and outlines recommendations for further improvements. It  is based on responses to a questionnaire polling judges and other professionals working in the courts or using them regularly who were asked their thoughts about change over the past 15 years. The report also includes excerpts from a conference held to mark the Committee's 15th anniversary.

     Major findings detailed by the report include the following:

  • While awards of child support are fairer, and enforcement of child support obligations has improved, the inadequacy of resources in Family Court, where poor women are most likely to appear, is severe enough to create conditions that routinely deprive litigants of fair, just, timely resolutions of their cases.
  • While judges are more likely to recognize homemakers' contributions to a marriage, in great measure women who divorce still fail to fare equitably by reason of unrealistic expectations about women's earning power and the high cost of obtaining a divorce in New York.
  • While domestic violence victims now benefit from heightened public awareness, more sensitive police and prosecutorial approaches and increases in resources, and these crimes are treated with appropriate seriousness in the courts, victims of domestic violence all face higher standards for establishing credibility than their abusers, treatment based on stereotypes and the tendency to blame them for their abusers' behavior.
  • While the number of women judges in New York has increased substantially, with women being well represented on the appellate courts and within the ranks of administrative judges, a disproportionate number of women judges are in New York City, and women are not well represented on the State Supreme Court, particularly outside New York City.
Upon issuing the report, Judge Ellerin said, "While the steps forward that have been taken in the 15 years since the original Task Force Report was issued have greatly helped level the playing field for women, all people of goodwill must continue to work tirelessly to eradicate the substantial problems that still confront all too many women litigants, particularly those with limited resources and those who are subjected to domestic abuse."

The 18-member Committee is composed of female and male judges, lawyers and court administrators. Copies of the report can be obtained by calling (212) 428-2794.

Click on this link to view the report.