News Item
Fourth District Judges Featured in National Conference on Racial Equity and Fairness in the Courts

Posted: Thursday, June 7, 2018

Conference theme is “Equal Justice for All: A Work in Progress”

The 30th Annual Conference for the National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts will be held in Minneapolis, from June 13-16 at the Loews Hotel, 601 1st Avenue North, Minneapolis.

Multiple Fourth Judicial District judicial officers serve on the Conference Planning Committee, and have spent numerous hours planning this conference. The conference theme is “Equal Justice for All: A Work in Progress,” and the agenda is filled with a variety of sessions discussing the progress toward equal justice and the work being done to achieve it.

The Honorable Judge Pamela Alexander and Referee JaPaul Harris will speak on “The 25th Anniversary of the Minnesota Racial Bias Taskforce: What Have We Accomplished and Where Do We Go From Here?”

“Since the Racial Bias Task Force Report was released in 1993 we have made incremental changes that have bettered the system,” Judge Alexander said. “Looking back over 25 years we have made some strides toward implementing the 87 recommendations made in the original report but we must do better. Today these issues are still of vital importance and we cannot afford to wait 25 more years to ensure equal justice for all.”

“Twenty-five years ago the Minnesota Courts took the important step of self-examination around the issue of racial bias,” Referee Harris said. “We have come a long way since that initial examination, but still have a long way to go. This taskforce is one of the single most important undertakings in the Courts as it relates to truly given people the opportunity to equal access to justice.”

The Honorable Judge Tanya Bransford, co-chair of the Conference Planning Committee, will lead a session titled “Leading the Way: A Conversation with Trailblazers in the Minnesota Courts.” The session will include Justice Anne McKeig, the first Native American to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court, Judge Peter Reyes, the first and only Latino on the Minnesota Court of Appeals and Magistrate Judge Tony Leung, the first Asian American judge in Minnesota.

As one of the first black female judges in Minnesota, Judge Bransford plans to learn from the distinguished panel members about how their mentors guided their careers. The judges will also discuss the benefits and challenges of being the “first” or the “only” in their respective courts. Judge Bransford, who at one time was the only Black female trial court judge in Minnesota, recalls witnessing history in 1983 when Gov. Rudy Perpich appointed Judge Pamela Alexander as the first Black female judge in Minnesota.

“As a law student, seeing Judge Alexander’s appointment made me realize that it is possible for women and people of color to serve as judges,” Judge Bransford said. “It has been my pleasure to be a mentor to law students and young lawyers, as I was mentored by others.”
“Ain’t Life Grand: The Use of Grand Juries in Police Involved Shootings,” featuring the Honorable Judge Mark Kappelhoff, will explore the role of grand juries in cases involving law enforcement misconduct. The panel will also discuss how a grand jury operates, the purpose and effectiveness of grand juries, and how grand juries are used to investigate potential criminal conduct.

As a former federal prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, Judge Kappelhoff conducted and supervised a number of federal grand jury investigations involving police misconduct, hate crimes, and human trafficking offenses. Among his many responsibilities, he oversaw the Department’s criminal and civil investigations in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, and other police departments around the country. He also worked on the Justice Department’s police accountability and criminal justice reform efforts.

“The use of grand juries to investigate allegations of law enforcement misconduct incidents has become a topic of great public interest in recent years,” Judge Kappelhoff said. “Our panel discussion will seek to demystify the grand jury process and provide some insight into the issues regarding the use of grand juries to investigate allegations of law enforcement misconduct.”

More information on the entire Conference agenda »