Russians Learn about U.S. Justice
The Republican (Boston, MA)
Posted on March 28, 2003
By Alex Peshkov
The case, she said, would attract just a few photographers and reporters in Moscow, a city of 9 million.
The Suffolk Superior Court visit was among several stops for Zapodinskaya and nine other Russian journalists and judges in a weeklong look at the American justice system. The group also visited the Union-News and Sunday Republican, where they shared information on their country's system of justice and learned more about courts here.
The visit, sponsored by the Library of Congress Open World program, was a window into the Russian justice system, which is evolving into a jury trial system. The country has a moratorium on the death penalty until jury-based trials are implemented nationwide, members of the group said.
As part of its Massachusetts tour. the group met members of the Judiciary-Media Committee of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Associate Justice John M. Greaney of Westfield, who is co-chairman of the committee, explained the purpose of the committee Formed in 1995.
"We (judges and journalists) have to communicate. We have to respect each other, and that is our goal - to bring together these two groups of people." Greaney said.
The Russian group includes judges and journalists from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Penza and Nizhniy Novgorod, They attended federal and state court proceedings and met Boston, Cambrige and Worcester judges as well as prosecutors, defense attorneys, law students and court reporters.
At the Union-News Wednesday they met with Publisher Larry A. McDermott and editors and received a tour from Production Director James C. Foley of the newspaper's new press.
Among issues discussed were differences in penalties for drunken driving and speeding. In Russia. speeders who are driving up to 40 miles over the limit can pay the fine to the responding officer and avoid court. The country has à "zåãî tolerance" of drunken driving, but blood alcohol tests are not reliable.
Russia's court system has three supreme courts with distinct functions, These are the Supreme Court, the Supreme Arbitration Court and the Constitutional Court Frequently cases are dismissed by one court because they fall within another court's jurisdiction,
Roughly speaking, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation makes the final decision on most civil cases and cases from the military courts. On the lowest level of the courts, district courts and judges of the peace review, for instance, civil lawsuits and criminal cases calling for penalties of under three years in prison.
Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, the Russian Supreme Court does not interpret the constitution or test the constitutionality of laws, regulations or other official acts. That is in the purview of the Constitutional Court. The Supreme Arbitration Court of the Russian Federation is the highest court for commercial disputes.
There Is no separate juvenile court system in Russia, as there is in Massachusetts. But judges told journalists in the Springfield meeting that juvenile cases are decided by the courts in hearings that are closed to the public. Most Massachusetts juvenile cases also are closed, with the exception of youthful offenders 14 and over who are charged as adults with felonies.
Some regions of Russia are already instituting jury trials, which are soon expected to be instituted nationwide, according to Igor Masloboyev, a judge at St. Petersburg City Court In the past decade the country has been trying to reform ifs court system, establishing an independent judiciary and opening up most cases to the public, including military courts - some of which now post verdicts on the Internet
The same friction can exist between judges and Journalists in Russia as here, group members said- But they work on good relationships.
Irina Dokina, a judge of St. Petersburg City Court with 34 years of experience, believes that the relationship between judges and journalists begins with their personal and professional characteristics.
"I have never had any problems with Journalists as a judge. I understand they are doing their job," she said.
For Zapodinskaya, who covers courts for the Kommersant Daily, Moscow, cultivating the relationship is key, "I've covered Moscow courts for several years so 1 know most of the judges, their habits and even hobbies," Zapodinskaya said, adding she even gave as a birthday present a cactus to one judge who collects them, "Judges don't like incompetent journalists, but if you are competent in judicial issues, usually there are no problems between you and a judge."
The group was accompanied on its Springfield visit by Joan Kenney, public information officer for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and a speaker at a 2000 St. Petersburg conference designed to improve relationships between the media and Russian judiciary Other members of the group included judges Igor Strelov and Valentin Ulanov, Pavel Odintsov, press secretary of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation; Konstantin Katanyan, editor of the Moscow News Weekly and MN Time daily newspaper, Pavel Netupskiy, editor of the legal bulletin Kadis Press; Taissiya Markelova, a paralegal with the Moscow Bar Association, and Sergey Golunov, a foreign relations officer for the National Fund "Protected Land" in Nizhni Novgorod, Russia.
They will leave the United States tomorrow.
Alex Peshkov can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com
[Reprinted with Permission]