submitted by Kristen Olsen, UCLI Co-President
The Salt Lake City Justice Court recently installed twenty-four photographs throughout its courthouse from Nick Sokoloff’s series entitled “The New Americans of Salt Lake: Portraits of Struggle, Spirit, and Inspiration.” These photographs of Utah’s immigrants and refugees— paid for with the generous support of Salt Lake City and the Utah Center for Legal Inclusion—are intended to make the five courtrooms and lobby of the busy Salt Lake City Justice Court more welcoming and inclusive.
Traditional courthouse spaces are often designed to symbolize authority and to underscore the importance and legitimacy in the rule of law—incorporating dark wood elements, elevated judicial benches, and portraits of current or past judges. These traditional features can feel imposing and intimidating to the jurors, criminal defendants, crime victims, testifying witnesses, and courtroom observers who may have limited experience with the judicial process.
Some attorneys of color who practice in Utah’s courthouses have also lamented that the portraits of current and past judges, many of whom look homogenous, can send a message that attorneys from various ethnic and racial backgrounds do not belong at the highest levels of Utah’s legal profession.
Pictured: Portraits of the “New Americans of Salt Lake” collection featured in a Salt Lake Justice Court courtroom
The modern trend, especially in high-volume, lower-level courts such as the Salt Lake City Justice Court, is focused on making these spaces more open, inclusive, and user-friendly. Indeed, the American Bar Association has directed courts to reevaluate the messaging and micro-messaging incorporated into their courthouse design to ensure these spaces are both affirming and equitable.
Each of the photographs on display at the Salt Lake City Justice Court features an individual who recently resettled in the Salt Lake City area. Nick Sokoloff’s vision was to explore their journeys and vividly display how each individual has added to the rich fabric of our community.
The Salt Lake City Justice Court worked together with Dr. David Parker, an expert on creating positive and inclusive cultures and climates, to ensure that the four portraits selected for each courtroom struck an appropriate balance between the need to both promote the rule of law and the desire to create a welcoming and user-friendly environment.
So far, the feedback from the Salt Lake City Justice Court’s community partners has been positive. According to Judge Clemens Landau, the most common response has been: “When is the court going to get more of these photographs to fill the remaining blank walls?”
See here for more information about the New Americans Project.
See here for more information about the photographer, Nick Sokoloff.