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OSCA report finds gender, racial disparities among court workers

Scott Lauck//March 16, 2020

OSCA report finds gender, racial disparities among court workers

Scott Lauck//March 16, 2020

Missouri judges are more likely to be men, but the staff who work beside them in the courthouse overwhelmingly are women. Nearly one in six judiciary personnel is a race or ethnicity other than white. And three out of five judges are within 15 years of retirement.

These are some of the detailed findings of a study the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator released March 9. The 39-page study, “Diversity and Inclusion in the Missouri Judiciary,” breaks down judicial personnel by gender, race/ethnicity and age.

The study builds on a prior survey that the National Center for State Courts conducted in 2017. That study, however, used survey data only for state-paid court employees, leaving out the many court workers who are employed by counties or other agencies with whom the public is most likely to interact.

“Regardless of the job title, judicial diversity is an important topic to discuss and goal to work toward,” the study states.

This year’s study expanded the survey to non-state-paid workers, drawing 891 respondents. That information was combined with judiciary payroll data from 2018 to provide “a baseline for future reference and to make future decisions impacting the diversity” of the judiciary.

In a statement announcing the study, Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice George W. Draper III noted that in 1938, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Missouri either to allow black students into its law school or to create a “suitable alternative.” Yet for years no women or minorities served in the state’s judiciary, and only a handful had joined by the time Draper became a lawyer in 1984. Draper is just the second black judge to serve on the Missouri Supreme Court.

“While the data show we have come a long way in 70 years, we can do better,” Draper said. He noted the work of the Supreme Court’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness, which he said “will continue to emphasize diversification of the bench and judicial personnel among its important efforts to improve racial and ethnic fairness in the state’s legal system.”

The diversity study found that women are underrepresented on the bench but overrepresented among other personnel. Just 29 percent of Missouri’s judges were women. Yet excluding judges, 79 percent of state- and non-state-paid employees were female. Women constitute slightly more than half of Missouri’s population.

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The study noted that circuits under the Nonpartisan Court Plan proportionately have more women on the bench. In Clay, Platte, Jackson, Greene and St. Louis counties and the city of St. Louis, 41 percent of judges were female, versus 21 percent in elected courts.

The study also found racial disparities in the makeup of the bench. According to the study, 86 percent of judges were Caucasian, versus 6 percent who were African American and 3 percent who were Hispanic, Native American or who listed two or more races. Five percent were unknown.

Nationally, 20 percent of judges are people of color, according to the National Center for State Courts. In Missouri, about 19 percent of judges on nonpartisan courts were people of color, compared with 3 percent in elected circuits.

“This just reaffirms the importance of the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan,” said Megan Phillips, a co-chair of the Joint Commission on Women in the Profession.

Phillips — who is also a member of the executive committee of The Missouri Bar’s Board of Governors and a longtime Missouri Court of Appeals employee who now works for the federal court in St. Louis — said she was delighted to see such a level of detail brought to the issue. She also said it highlighted the barriers female and minority judicial candidates face outside the merit-selection system.

“It comes down to money, and women and minorities do not have the same access to that money,” she said.

The study found a disparity in the racial and ethnic makeup of the court’s workforce. Whites comprised 84 percent of state-paid employees but 53 percent of non-state-paid employees. The study noted that non-state-paid employees primarily work in the 12 judicial circuits that encompass only one county, which tend to be in the more diverse metropolitan areas.

Combining the two datasets, the study found that while white males comprised 63 percent of judges, they were only 21 percent of the overall judicial workforce. Just 5 percent of Missouri judges were non-white males, which is lower than the 12 percent national average, the study said.

In terms of age, both judges and court workers tend to be older than Missourians as a whole. Forty-four percent of judges were between 55 and 64 in 2018, and another 17 percent were between 65 and the mandatory retirement age of 70. About a third of all judges were between 40 and 54, as were 39 percent of non-judge employees. The study notes that “personnel aged 40-64 years are at much higher percentages than reflective of the Missouri population.”

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