PBA President Issues Statement About Non-Peer Reviewed Study Accusing Judges of Bias

HARRISBURG (Aug. 20, 2021) – Pennsylvania Bar Association President Kathleen D. Wilkinson has issued the following statement:
“A recent non-peer reviewed study that purported to review national criminal sentencing practices data issued findings critical of the practices of Eastern District Judge C. Darnell Jones II and Judge Timothy J. Savage. The authors’ conclusions drew widespread criticism. Lawyers who regularly appeared before the two judges in criminal cases, including members of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the U.S. Attorney’s office and the American College of Trial Lawyers expressed support for the fairness and integrity of these highly experienced and respected jurists. Earlier this week, the authors of the study acknowledged serious flaws in their approach and formally withdrew their conclusions regarding individual judges, including their criticisms of Judge Jones and Judge Savage and others who were targeted in the study as having sentenced defendants in a biased manner. 

The Pennsylvania Bar Association mission statement includes support for a diverse and inclusive system of justice, as well as defending the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. Unfortunately, the authors of this widely publicized report unfairly and incorrectly asserted that their data showed that these two experienced and respected judges sentenced criminal defendants based on their race, thereby undermining confidence about the integrity of our federal judiciary. While it is certainly appropriate for judicial sentencing practices to be studied for fairness and compliance with applicable sentencing guidelines, we denounce the unwarranted, misleading accusations of bias that were lodged against these highly respected federal judges. Because of the importance of public confidence in our courts, the authors of such studies should have a heightened responsibility to ensure the accuracy of their conclusions, particularly since judges are often limited in their ability to publicly discuss court matters. 

The PBA’s mission also supports and promotes the equal administration of justice for all and that no one on account of poverty be denied their legal rights. The PBA stands ready to assist in the ongoing examination of the fairness of our criminal justice system and encourages an ongoing discussion of these important issues.

We join with other leaders within the ranks of the legal community in support of Judge Jones and Judge Savage and express our regret that their long-standing reputations for fairness and equity were wrongly brought into question.”

Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association strives to promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access of legal services; and serve the lawyer members of the state’s largest organized bar association