Ithaca, N.Y. — Ithaca City Court Judge Seth Peacock is the only non-white judge of the 45 in New York state’s Sixth Judicial District, according to information provided by his supporters.

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Seth Peacock

The district is made up of 10 counties: Broome, Chemung, Tompkins, Chenago, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler and Tioga.

Among those counties, minorities make up 9 percent of the population in Broome, 9 percent in Chemung, and 18 percent in Tompkins.

Ithacan Eldred Harris, who is helping Peacock’s campaign and previously owned the Diaspora Gallery on the Commons, pointed the statistic out to The Voice in an interview on Thursday.

The lack of diversity behind the bench extends to family court, county court, municipal court and others, according to Harris.

“What we’re saying is that nowhere in that system are there any judges of ethnic or racial diversity” with the exception of Peacock, Harris said. “Any.”

Peacock is running against Rick Wallace on Nov. 4. Wallace defeated Peacock in the Democratic primary in September, but Peacock is running on the Working Families Party line. Mayor Svante Myrick appointed Peacock to the position a few months before the election after the previous judge announced her retirement.

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Harris, who has a law degree from Cornell, said he is supporting Peacock for several reasons.

One reason is that Peacock brings diversity to an overwhelmingly white profession, Harris said. That Caucasians tend to be the ones donning judicial robes, particularly at the local and state level, was highlighted in a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice.

“Most of the legal disputes adjudicated in America are heard in state courts. As such, they must serve a broad range of constituencies and an increasingly diverse public. So why are state judiciaries consistently less diverse than the communities they serve?,” the report says.

“Unfortunately, studies show that both merit selection systems and judicial elections are equally challenged when it comes to creating diversity.”

While lack of diversity plagues much of New York state, the Ithaca area’s sixth judicial district appears to fall particularly short, according to state records.

In 2010, it and the 4th judicial district — which encompasses the Saratoga Springs area — were the only two of the 13 judicial districts in the state without at least one minority judge, records show.

This lack of diversity on the bench is a serious problem in dire need of remedying, Harris said, in part because young black men and women mostly see portrayals (in media and elsewhere) of blacks on the wrong side of the law.

“These kids on the South-Side of Ithaca: Where do they see an attorney? They see Seth and it gives kids a different insight into what’s possible to them,” Harris said.

Harris said Peacock is working on different programs to speak to children from minority communities. Peacock recently hosted a group of elementary school children enrolled in a South Side Community Center program at court, Harris said.

“If you have leaders of color in critical positions, it makes a tremendous difference,” Harris said.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.