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PA Bar Association's Immediate Past President Sharon Lopez and Justice Dougherty discuss diversity, inclusion and bias in the courts today.
PA Bar Association's Immediate Past President Sharon Lopez and Justice Dougherty discuss diversity, inclusion and bias in the courts today. Photos: Peter Fitzpatrick / AL DÍA News

AL DÍA honors emerging Latino lawyers, and discusses diversity with a PA Supreme Court Justice

Justice Dougherty noted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court — the oldest in the nation, having been founded in 1722 — has never had a Latino or Latina on the…

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On Thursday, legal professionals from the Greater Philadelphia area gathered at AL DÍA’s Lawyer’s Forum to honor five emerging Latino lawyers, and for a discussion with Justice Kevin M. Dougherty of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Following opening remarks from the Immediate Past President of the New Jersey Hispanic Bar, Hector Ruiz, and a welcome address from AL DÍA CEO Hernán Guaracao, Justice Dougherty reflected on diversity and inclusion in the courts today.

“Have we truly established justice for all?” Dougherty asked the audience of 50 guests in attendance.

“Love is necessary for society to move forward,” he continued. “Unity is only possible through diversity.”

Before being sworn in as a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice in Jan. 2016, Dougherty served as a judge for the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas for 15 years.

Following his speech, he sat down for a conversation with Sharon Lopez, the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Immediate Past President and a co-founder of Triquetra Law in Lancaster, where she works in civil rights and employment law.

During their discussion, which continued to focus on issues of diversity, inclusion, and bias in the courts, Dougherty explained that he learned about cultural differences early in his career, and now works to subvert biases in direct, candid ways in order to communicate and create more comprehensive understanding in our society.

Dougherty noted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, though the oldest in the nation, having been founded in 1722, has never had a Latino or Latina on the bench.

"You need to have representation - not only geographical, but gender and racial," he said.

He drew from his own personal experiences, as a judge of Irish heritage who has worked with Latino and African American communities throughout his career, when explaining his approach to recognizing bias in the courts.

The best way to handle implicit biases in law, he said, is through explicit, clear communication.

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Following the discussion, attorney Caroline Cruz, who now works as the School District of Philadelphia’s Assistant General Counsel, took the stage to introduce the evening’s five award winners, all emerging Latino lawyers who are making a difference and helping shape society.

The winner of the ‘Pro Bono’ award, Ed Lanza, recently passed away after battling a rare cancer. His wife, Teresa Lanza, accepted the honor on his behalf.

“He did believe in serving others, but he did so quietly,” Lanza said, noting that Ed carried out his work humbly, never thinking about honors like the one bestowed on him last night.

James ‘J.P.’ Faunes, a lawyer focusing on medical malpractice cases at the law firm Feldman Shepherd, was the recipient of the ‘Mid to Large Firm’ award. He gave an impassioned speech about growing up as a Latino in Texas, with a chip on his shoulder due to the discrimination his parents experienced, that he often witnessed as a child.

Anger at these circumstances has been transformed into pride and gratitude for his family’s resilience and the Latino community, Faunes said.

Brenda Marrero, the Deputy Director of Operations at Community Legal Services, was the ‘Non-Profit’ award honoree.

"Leadership to me should embody empathy, humility,...and a willingness to learn," she told the audience when accepting her award.

The evening’s two other honorees were Jacqueline Martinez, a Pittsburgh-based lawyer who provides legal services for the immigrant community in her city, and Jennifer Andrade, an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Martinez received the ‘Solo Small Firm’ award, and Andrade, the ‘Government Attorney’ award.

The evening closed with remarks from Ruiz once more, and a networking reception.

“Anything’s possible within the confines of the law. That’s the beauty of this court,” Dougherty told the audience at one point during his discussion with Lopez.

Last night’s honorees and attendees know this all too well, and expressed their commitment to continuing to both ensure and celebrate the progress and positive change that can be created as a result.

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