May 26, 2009 | Articles

On the Bench, With Fairness and Empathy

The woman sitting in the witness box was presented with a printed page, and asked to read it aloud. She used two hands and her lips. One index finger tracked the words left to right across the page; the other moved down the lines, from top to bottom. She mouthed the words to herself before speaking them. She read the word “indicted” as “indicated.”

The judge, Sonia Sotomayor, glanced at the clock. It was 11:13. At the end, she had a question for the witness, Marilyn Bartlett:

“What did you just read?”

“I haven’t got a clue,” Dr. Bartlett replied.

“Neither have I,” the judge said.

Although the passage was just 426 words, it had taken Dr. Bartlett — then a professor at the New York Institute of Technology, with a doctorate in education, a law degree and a verbal I.Q. measured as “superior” — 11 minutes to read it, the sentences so excruciatingly drawn out that no one could remember their meaning.

For 21 days in 1995, Judge Sotomayor heard testimony in the case of Marilyn Bartlett v. New York State Board of Law Examiners, a lawsuit brought under the Americans With Disabilities Act against the state agency that administers the bar exam. Because of her problems with reading, Dr. Bartlett wanted more time to take the exam and permission to use a computer to write the essays. The board turned her down.

Read the full article here.

Source: The New York Times, May 26, 2009.

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