On Tuesday, July 2, 2024, Denver7 reported that Colorado judge Jon Olafson introduced a new civility order in his courtroom aiming to reduce bias and promote inclusion.

Judge Olafson, who has served as the 2nd Judicial District Court judge in Denver for about seven months, wanted to bring his identity as an openly gay man to the bench. However, he was concerned about potential pushback to displaying his pronoun preferences or making the courtroom a more welcoming space. But he was inspired by last words of advice from his mother – to “show them who you are, and you give them hell.”

One of Olafson’s first acts as a judge was introducing the civility order. The order encourages using gender-neutral titles when practical and leaving identity characteristics like race, sex, or sexual orientation out of arguments unless directly relevant to the case. It also asks litigants to respect how others self-identify. Olafson said reducing bias is important for ensuring fundamental fairness and access to justice.

Studies show biases in courtrooms can negatively impact minorities. Black Americans are seven times more likely than whites to be falsely convicted of serious crimes, according to University of Michigan research. A separate study found jurors view gay and lesbian victims of crimes more critically than straight victims. Local defense attorney Joyce Akhahenda has witnessed how biases influence perceptions of defendants rather than evidence.

Annie Martinez of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy said feeling unwelcome in court is a barrier to justice. Alexi Freeman at the University of Denver uses Olafson’s order in her classroom to discuss bias and inclusion. Most students reportedly support the ideas but some are surprised such an order is needed. Other states like Utah, Michigan, Washington, and Massachusetts have adopted similar policies.

Ryann Peyton with the Colorado Supreme Court’s attorney mentoring program said while most judges have conduct orders, adding inclusive standards can promote meaningful change. Reducing bias is important as judges uphold impartial justice. The Colorado Supreme Court also issues jury instructions against unconscious biases influencing verdicts.

However, Freeman noted pushback against inclusion efforts remains. While Olafson hopes to role model authenticity and sensitivity in his new role, only time will tell how widely such civility orders are adopted and how much impact they have on biases in courtrooms.

 

 

Source: Denver7