December 20, 2014 · 28 Kislev

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Jury Diversity

Temple Sinai

363 Penfield Road
Rochester, New York 14625
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This award-winning project is co-sponsored by Temple Sinai and Baber A.M.E., an African-American church in Rochester. The two institutions have joined together in various ways over the course of the last five years, participating in seders, picnics, youth programs, a prejudice reduction workshop, and other activities aimed at building a sense of partnership. Based on the trust that has grown up in the course of this cooperation, they have now chosen to work together to help increase the diversity of Monroe County juries.

A 1994 report by the Chief Judge of the State of New York documented the statewide problem of under-representation of the poor and of minorities in New York jury pools. Such under-representation has a negative impact on both the quality and fairness of the jury deliberation process and on the community's respect for jury verdicts.

The Monroe County Jury Project was initiated by the Monroe County Bar Association as a response to these findings. It seeks to educate people to the importance of jury service and to enroll as volunteers for jury service young people, poor people, and people of color who are not currently on the jury source list. Hundreds of people have been added to the lists as a result.

Since its inception, the Jury Project has relied primarily on a small and dwindling number of volunteer attorneys. The Baber/Sinai collaboration is intended to infuse new energy into the project. Volunteer congregants of both institutions sit at recruiting tables in shopping malls, at the local community college, and in other places where there is a high volume of traffic, distributing information and encouraging people to let their names be added to the jury list.

It is anticipated that more than 200 Temple Sinai members will participate in the project in some capacity during the next two years.

The partnership between Baber A.M.E., Temple Sinai, and the Monroe County Bar Association was kicked off at an open meeting that featured, among other speakers, a talk by Betty Tyson, an African-American woman who had recently been released after serving 25 years in state prison, after the verdict rendered by an all-white all-male jury was overturned on the grounds that evidence supporting Ms. Tyson's claim to innocence had not been provided to defense counsel.

The integrity of the criminal justice system, and the respect with which it is held by the citizenry, depends on many things - among them, the composition of our juries. The problem of under-representation is nationwide and warrants concerned and constructive intervention. The Fain Award is presented to Temple Sinai in recognition of its important intervention to repair a critical aspect of our common culture, and in praise of its successful partnership with other community institutions.

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