Peoria Journal Star (Peoria, IL)
Posted on July 29, 2001
By Andy Kravetz
Visitors in town to learn about U.S. legal system.
PEORIA - Four Russian judges will soak up Peoria's legal system this week as part of a modern-day Marshall plan designed to teach leaders of that country's fledgling democracy about our governmental processes.
And, Librarian of Congress James Billington said last week, the judges' visit as part of the Library of Congress' Open World Russian Leadership program also is rather timely as several legal reforms are pending in the Duma, or the Russian parliament.
"There is a lot in the air over there, so this will be relevant and timely," he said.
Anatoliy Vladimirovich Astanin from Altai Krai, a region in western Siberia; Alimzhan Kayumovich Shaymerdyanov from the Vladimir region; Yuri Leonardovich Sobina from Moscow; and Vladimir Vyacheslavovich Poletov from the Ivanovo region east of Moscow all serve as the heads of their regional judicial councils.
They were picked, Billington said, because they exhibited strong leadership skills in post-communist Russia.
U.S. District Judge Michael Mihm, the judges' host during their weeklong visit and one of the organizers, thinks the visit goes well beyond legal aspects.
"It's very important for them to see how judges are perceived in this country. It's important to see how other parts of the community interact with judges," said Mihm, who has visited Russia four times and spoken at conferences there.
Added Billington: "We want them to see how the whole of America works."
As part of that, the judges will tour the Peoria County Courthouse, the federal courthouse, Bradley University, Wildlife Prairie State Park and other sites around the area. Peoria is an ideal location because it's representative of a smaller, urban area and allows the visitors to see parts of the country other than Washington, D.C., or New York.
"The whole idea, or one of the ideas, is to spread out over the country. Very often, (the judges) only go to the largest cities. We think it's important in the context that they really experience a lot of different communities," Mihm said.
To that end, two other delegations arriving at around the same time will be in Baltimore and Oklahoma City.
The highlight of the week should come Thursday when the 3rd District Court of Appeals, normally based in Ottawa, will hear oral arguments in a civil case and a criminal case. Three of the justices will meet with the Russians beforehand to discuss the appeals process here.
After that, state Supreme Court justice Thomas Kilbride will be the keynote speaker at a lunchtime meeting. The judges will then speak on the process of judicial reform in their country.
The exchange is in its third year. Political and civic leaders are brought to the United States for intensive short-term visits that allow them to view firsthand the free enterprise and democratic systems of America. In its first two years, 3,650 Russians from all parts of the country have come to this country to participate.
"It's a remarkable effort by the American people," Billington said, referring to action taken by Congress a few years ago to establish the program.
Among the legal reforms proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin are the introduction of jury trials on a limited basis, revamping the criminal code and new restrictions on the powers of prosecutors.
There haven't been jury trials in Russia since the late 1800s, and that lack of due process, Billington said, has held up some U.S. firms from investing in the former Soviet Union.
While our system isn't perfect, he said, it does have impartiality - something that is sometimes lacking in Russia. The hope is that this program will start to change that.
"I think that the idea is to take people who have already shown initiative and drive and to expose them to a system that has functioning for a long time with a mandate that they are attempting to establish in Russia," Billington said.
"Our whole legal system is the product of a system that devised in the 18th century. For the Russians or any people to move from a high authoritative system to a system where you have the rule of law is a dramatic step," Billington said.
[Permission granted by Peoria Journal Star. ]
[Reprinted with Permission]