Judicial Bias Against Minority and Female Attorneys (Job Market Paper)


This paper tests for judicial bias in the treatment of racial minority and female attorneys by examining its impact on case outcomes. I account for potential omitted variable bias by exploiting the random assignment of first-appearance hearings in Miami-Dade County to public defenders and judges. I analyze the differences across judges in the rates at which attorneys of different demographic groups secure a pretrial release. I develop a finite sample test of significance which accounts for the small sample of cases at the individual judge level. I find significant variation in the release rate between Black and White attorneys measured across different judges. However, I do not find evidence of judicial bias in the treatment of female or Hispanic attorneys in my setting. Using my estimates, I rank judges by favorability towards Black attorneys. A defendant with a Black attorney is 2.8 percentage points less likely to be released when assigned a judge in the bottom quartile of this ranking compared with being assigned a judge in the top quartile. The impacts of bias againt Black attorneys would be disproportionately borne by Black defendants, given their preference for Black representation when able to hire their attorney. I find that an increase in the favorability of judges toward Black attorneys by one standard deviation of the relative bias coefficient would decrease the racial gap in pre-trial release rates by 33%. As case outcomes affect not only defendants’ freedom but also attorneys’ productivity and wages, judicial bias may also help explain minorities’ continued underrepresentation in the legal profession, particularly in its higher ranks.

Working Paper
Priyanka Goonetilleke
Priyanka Goonetilleke
Graduate Student

I am a Ph.D. candidate in Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. My research interests are in Empirical Microeconomics focusing on Law and Economics.