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Report Finds Pervasive Sex Bias Against Women in Court System

April 20, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ Bias against women in the New York state court system is so pervasive that they are often denied equal justice, a report by a special state task force has concluded.

The 23-member panel found that female lawyers were routinely demeaned by male judges and attorneys, The New York Times and the Daily News reported in Sunday editions.

The report also concluded, according to the Times, that the credibility of female witnesses was sometimes questioned because women are viewed by some judges as emotional and untrustworthy.

The panel said some judges did not understand the nature of family violence and blamed the victims for it.

Some judges did not recognize a wife’s contribution to a marriage and distributed property inequitably in divorce settlements, the panel found, while others treated as unimportant women’s efforts to obtain and enforce child-support awards.

″More was found in this examination of gender bias in the courts than bruised feelings resulting from rude or callous behavior,″ the task force concluded.

″Women uniquely, disproportionately and with unacceptable frequency must endure a climate of condescension, indifference and hostility,″ it said.

The News said the report found poor or minority women in particular are reduced to ″underclass status.″

One of the judges quoted in the report said he had ″heard judges make offensive remarks ... concerning the physical attributes and sexual attributes of the female defense attorneys.″

A 35-year-old female lawyer quoted anonymously said, ″I have personally been invited to sit on the lap of a landlord-tenant judge while arguing a motion.″

The New York Task Force on Women report was based on a two-year study by the panel of state legislators, judges, professors, lawyers and others.

The panel presented it to Chief Judge of the Court Sol Wachtler and urged him to name a special assistant to monitor discrimination against women, investigate complaints and set up a training program to make judges less biased, the Times said.

It also urged the enactment of laws that better protect women in child custody and family violence cases.

Wachtler said he would announce steps to implement certain recommendations next month.

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