Indiana Daily Student (Bloomington, IN)
Posted on October 26, 2006
By Jessica Wolfe
Some IU students will spend their whole college careers trying to understand the U.S. court system. A group of Ukrainian judicial officials will try to do it in one week, with one of those days spent observing court procedures in Bloomington and Nashville, Ind.
The group arrived in Washington, D.C., last week as part of a program sponsored by the Open World Leadership Center, created and funded by Congress. The program has brought more than 11,000 emerging leaders from post-Soviet countries, including Russia and Ukraine, since it started in 1999.
"The main goal (of the program) is mutual understanding. It breaks down stereotypes," Open World Leadership Center program manager Vera DeBuchananne said.
Wednesday, before chomping into a local food special, square donuts, the group of eight men and women answered questions during a press conference. The group members, all of whom hold various judicial positions in Ukraine, spoke about their trip and gave their initial thoughts after seeing Washington, D.C., the Juvenile Detention Center in Indianapolis, the Indiana Women's Prison, and, of course, Sunday's Indianapolis Colts game against the Washington Redskins.
"The legal court system in the U.S. is different than Ukraine as soccer is different than American football," said Artem Filipyev, 24, the president of a legal services charity fund in the Ukraine, through translator Yuliya Oicheva.
"We hope to use the experience we have seen here and put it to practice in Ukraine," Filipyev said.
Other members of the group spoke Wednesday about what they have seen and would like to implement in their country and gave suggestions of ways the .S. courts could improve, such as requiring more experience for higher court appointees.
One feature that left an impression with the Ukrainian guests was the process of jury selection.
Jury selection is a sign of a strong democracy, appellate judge Tetyana Kutova said.
"Perhaps we will change our views on having such a system," Kutova said
Kutova also spoke about their impressions after visiting the Indiana Women's Prison.
"We were very impressed with the conditions the inmates are kept in," Kutova said.
"These are not the kind of conditions we, unfortunately, have in Ukraine."
Kutova said the group was interested in the rehabilitation, educational and vocational programs they had seen.
"We intend to bring these things back to the attention of our colleagues in Ukraine," Svitlana Sharenko, a district court judge, said.
Other points of interest mentioned during the press conference included the United States' "faith in adolescents" and the use of legal precedence, and the group suggested that the United States place more emphasis on victim's rights and require judge appointees at higher court levels to have some prior experience as judges at lower court levels.
Monroe County judges David Welch and Elizabeth Mann hosted the delegation for the day, leading the group through the Justice Building to observe civil law proceedings. In the afternoon, the delegation ate at IU's School of Law; later that night, Welch and Mann took the Ukrainian guests to see the Brown County Courthouse and to shop in the city famous for its fall tourism. The group had spent Saturday to Tuesday in Indianapolis. The plan was to let the group observe courts in counties ranging from large to small and see the differences at each level.
"It was a very informative, enjoyable day," Welch said in a telephone interview, while the group shopped in Nashville, Ind. "I found their comments and observations very insightful, and I appreciated their suggestions."
Welch said one effect of the Open World program could be stabilizing the business environment in post-Soviet countries, so businesses can do commerce with those countries. However, he said that the program's main goal is informational exchange, since any changes from visits will take time.
The goal of the program is to let people in different countries get to know Americans on a personal level, DeBuchananne said. "It's just really eye-opening."
DeBuchananne encourages those who have gone through the Open World program to go home and see if what they have seen is applicable in their lives.
"Coming out of communism, they think the government should do everything," she said, adding that she encourages them to take ideas from America and improve their lives.
As far as changes on a national level, the country has only been a democracy for a short time, Welch said, and the kinds of changes discussed Wednesday take time to implement.
"Change often takes years," Welch said, "but if you don't start, it never happens."
[Reprinted with Permission]