The administrative judge for the judicial district that includes Monroe County is stepping down after acknowledging a photo from a Halloween party in 1988 that shows him in “Black-face” as a well-known public figure of color.
Justice Craig J. Doran issued a news release July 2. Citing a zero-tolerance policy from the chief judge on matters of racial bias and insensitivity, Doran said he will “no longer be exercising my responsibilities as Administrative Judge of the Seventh Judicial District.”
He said he will continue as an elected Supreme Court Justice. He heard cases, primarily in Ontario County. His role also required he assign judges, as he did in the allegations of campaign finance violations against Mayor Lovely Warren.
The Seventh Judicial District covers Monroe and Cayuga, Livingston, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates counties.
It is likely that most people who come to the courts have never heard of Doran, but he has had a profound effect on many lives, particularly for people in Monroe County.
In his role as administrative judge, Doran advocated for and was instrumental in setting up diversion courts and alternative ways of helping people navigate and have a voice in what can be an intimidating environment for anyone who lacks resources.
In April, he pledged his support for volunteer legal services being coordinated by JustCause, which provides a range of legal services for low-income people.
In a subsequent interview with Minority Reporter, Doran talked about gun and other diversion courts and that he had assigned two judges to explore ways for court system to identify and address root causes of the violence in Rochester.
He was behind housing court and the special COVID housing court set up during the pandemic.
“Seeing him go will be sad news to people who have been working to eliminate racial inequality in the courts,” said Tina Monshipour Foster, an Iranian-American human rights attorney. She is the executive director of JustCause, but was speaking on her own behalf.
In a prepared statement, Foster called Doran an ally who “has done more to address racism and inequality in our local courts than anyone else I know.”
She said he created opportunities for diversity in the justice system and in 2019 started the Community Justice Council to hear concerns from community members about their experiences with the courts.
“Often these discussions lay bare uncomfortable truths about racial inequality in our courts,” Foster wrote. “Judge Doran has never retreated from these discussions, but is willing to hear criticisms, and takes steps to put words into action. Though he considers this part of his job, I don’t know of any other administrative judges in the state that do this.”
Foster counted herself among the people of color that Doran supported and promoted to leadership.
She said she had hoped some of Doran’s initiatives would be models for the state, but now wider adoption may be in jeopardy.
Given what she said was Doran’s commitment to equity, it struck Foster as ironic that he was stepping down because of apparent racial insensitivity from decades ago.
“I think we are all on a growth journey,” Foster said of the move toward equity. “I try to judge people, especially leaders, on the progress they are making and how accountable they are being. … It doesn’t really matter where you started from. It’s where you are now. I hope that I am further along than I was in 1988.”
The Rev. Lewis Stewart, who said he was working with Doran on a court-watch initiative to identify implicit bias, said the judge called him on July 1.
“He felt he would talk to me and just really unburden himself about what took place in 1988,” Stewart said. “I said, ‘Craig, in 1988 I may have been abhorrent about what you did and I still am, but at the same time I’m willing to work with you because I don’t see you as that person in 1988. I see you as somebody totally different.'”
Stewart said he met Doran in 2013 and they have worked on projects to address systemic racism and implicit bias in the courts.
He said Doran “never evinced racism” and was penitent in his conversation.
He echoed Foster in talking about personal growth.
“There is always room for this redemptive process in a person’s growth,” Stewart said.
He said people need to be held accountable, “but at the same time not base the trajectory of one’s life on an offensive racist incident that took place 30 years ago but look at where this person is now. Where Judge Doran is at right now certainly says that we need to forgive and we need to move forward together because I’m certainly still willing to do that.”
But not everyone in the community shares such forgiving sentiments.
The Take it Down Planning Committee; Faith Community Alliance Coalition called for Doran immediately to resign from the bench. In an email, the group wrote that it rejected the idea that Doran, according to his statement, did not comprehend at the time the hurtful nature of his actions. The group called it a racist act, said it did not believe Doran’s account and questioned why it took so long for him to acknowledge the incident.
“He was a full grown man in law school in 1988, and did not realize that it was a racist act for him to dress in Black face? So, when did he discover this, and why has it taken thirty-three (33) years to acknowledge his so-called “mistake?” the group wrote.
Here is the statement from Doran:
“It has come to my attention that a photograph taken of me at a Halloween party in 1988 in which I appear as a well-known public figure of color has been circulated. I am deeply sorry for my decision to appear in this manner. I did not comprehend at the time the hurtful nature of my actions. I know now that an act of this nature is considered to be racist. I can assure you that this event in 1988 in no way reflects my beliefs and principles.
“I ask for forgiveness from those who have been hurt by this, those I may have embarrassed, and from the people who have taken time in their lives to educate me about the hurt my actions caused.
“In accordance with the Chief Judge’s zero tolerance policy on matters of racial bias and insensitivity, I will no longer be exercising my responsibilities as Administrative Judge of the Seventh Judicial District. I plan to continue my service to the District as an elected Supreme Court Justice. I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue the work I have devoted my 30-year career to, bringing justice to all, particularly those who have been and are the victims of ignorance, bias, racism, or injustice. I pledge to make the transition to a new administrative judge seamless.”
Doran was not available July 2nd for comment.