NJ Bar Association diversity quotas challenged by lawyer’s trial
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The New Jersey State Bar Association’s system of assigning CEO seats based on race, gender, and gender identity violates anti-discrimination law and excludes other groups miscellaneous, a Bridgewater lawyer alleged in a retrial.
Rajeh Saadeh, who is Muslim and Arab-American, said the policy has a far-reaching impact because administrators influence state appointments as judges and prosecutors.
“The only way to get [at-large] seats is if you fit into certain categories, âSaadeh said in an interview, calling itâ reverse discrimination â.
Saadeh, who heads a family and real estate law firm, filed a lawsuit in Middlesex County State Superior Court on Friday.
The bar association, which has more than 16,000 members, has dedicated a full-fledged position on its board of directors to black, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific lawyers, women and LGBTQ. Three additional seats are open to any person belonging to these groups, as well as to disabled lawyers or at least 70 years of age.
The board of directors has 49 seats in total, including eight others.
Last month, the association changed its rules to also open the last three seats to anyone who is a member of a recognized diversity bar. The 11 recognized associations represent Caribbean, black, Portuguese, Asian-Pacific, Haitian, Hispanic, Korean, female, Muslim and South Asian lawyers.
Domenick Carmagnola, the president of the bar association, said in a statement that the organization had “spent a lot of time and resources working to increase the representation of various lawyers in the leadership of the organization.”
âAny attempt to defeat and seek to remove directors and committee members who represent various segments of our membership is unreasonable; the claims made are frivolous and unfounded; and we will defend ourselves against them with zeal, âhe said.
The goal of allocating eight of the 49 seats to specific categories is to promote the inclusion of under-represented groups, according to the bar association.
But the policy is exclusive because it excludes groups such as Muslims, Native Americans and other religious minorities and violates the New Jersey Anti-Discrimination Act, alleges Saadeh in his costume.
âIf someone is systematically excluded, it is reverse discrimination,â he said. âI am a Muslim Arab. But I can’t get a seat unless I’m a member of a diverse bar association, and even then I can only get one of the three.
Adding candidates to the diversity bar also does not solve a fundamental problem – namely that institutions that serve the public cannot set racial quotas, Saadeh said.
Civil rights law allows organizations and institutions to consider diversity when allocating positions, but they cannot reserve seats by race, he said. He compared it to universities, which may consider running in admissions but cannot reserve a certain number of seats for this purpose.
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Other board seats are reserved for elected officers, members of the bar commissions, one representative from the state bar foundation, two people from the Young Lawyers division and one administrator from each county except Essex, which gets two.
Saadeh says he knows only one Muslim lawyer who has served as an administrator: himself. The 35-year-old was chosen to represent the Under-36 Young Lawyers Division during a term that ended earlier this year.
Now he feels that other avenues are closed to him. He said he went to the nominating committee to apply for a director seat and was asked if he fell into one of the categories. He said no.
A second time, he self-identified as Asian. Its origin is Palestinian, a state whose origin is technically in Asia but which is generally not considered Asian, he said. He said he did it to make a point – that there was no category for people like him.
Three deputy heads also sit on the Judicial Appointments and Attorneys Committee, which advises the Governor of New Jersey on potential candidates for county judge and attorney positions.
They also sit on the nominating committee, which reviews and appoints candidates to serve as directors and delegates to the American Bar Association.
The effects are felt not only within the bar, said Saadeh, âbut also among the general public, those who come before the bar. [courts] and see their case decided.
The lawsuit calls for the vacancies of the general seats and the corresponding committee positions. Saadeh is also looking for unspecified damages and the suspension of appointments until the system of appointing trustees is changed.
The lawsuit does not propose an alternative system for the selection of trustees.
Lindsay McKillop, a lawyer for Saadeh’s five-member cabinet, is representing him in the lawsuit.
Hannan Adely is a diversity reporter covering Arab and Muslim communities for NorthJersey.com, where she focuses on social issues, politics, prejudice and civil rights. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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