Portland Press Herald (Portland, ME)
Posted on August 3, 2000
By Martin Tsai
In the Russian city of Archangel, where Olga Kondratyerna Kolesnikova presides over civil cases in the regional court, there are no jury trials. Most citizens with cases in the court aren't even represented by lawyers.
Kolesnikova and seven other judges from Archangel, Portland's sister city in Russia, are spending a week in Maine to learn how the American court system works. Within the first few days, the group has already visited the Cumberland County Courthouse, University of Maine School of Law and local law firms.
The tight schedule of the visit has made Kolesnikova feel as though she has been here for a long time, instead of just a few days.
From Kolesnikova's observation, the judicial system in Russia is entirely different from the one in America. She explained that only five regions in Russia have jury courts, and Archangel isn't one.
"We've seen a lot of new things that are not acceptable by our system," Kolesnikova said, through a translator. "In the future when we have jury courts, it'll be very useful. But we are still trying to evaluate the pros and cons."
Nina Anatolyerna Belousove, a regional court judge who presides over criminal cases, said another big difference is that Russians are rarely represented by attorneys when on trial, even when they are charged with criminal offenses.
"Here, both sides being presented by professionals," Belousove said. "In Russia, citizens handle cases themselves. They appear in court without lawyers, and sometimes judges need to explain procedures to them."
The judges will continue their visit with trips to federal courts, the State House and the Maine Judicial Center in Augusta for the remainder of the week. They also expect to visit some of the popular tourist spots throughout the state.
The Russian judges said they are enjoying the chance to interact with many of their American counterparts, such as Daniel Wathen, chief justice of the state Supreme Court, as well as local judges and lawyers. Three translators are accompanying the group to facilitate conversation.
Belousove said the language barrier hasn't been a problem, but it has inspired a few judges to start learning English. She said the Mainers they've encountered are all kind and polite, and are making an effort to communicate with them.
"We strongly feel that people are interested in what's going on in Russia today," she said. "We don't have any difficulty communicating."
The eight judges are participants of the Library of Congress Russian Leadership Program Open World 2000, which will bring 1,800 Russian parliamentarians and civic leaders to the United States to observe how democracy operates in America.
The program's hosts in Maine are David Cluchey and Judy Potter, both University of Maine law professors; Neale Duffett, a local attorney and co-chairman of the Portland/Archangel Sister City Committee; and Caroline Glassman, retired justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.
"Already the visit is successful," Cluchey said. "There's been substantial give-and-take. It's an opportunity for American judges and lawyers to see how Russians operate."
Cluchey, who has accompanied the Russian judges during various activities, tries to make sure that there is good communication between the members of Russian and American legal systems.
"We're trying to create social occasions and break them up in smaller groups," he said. "Hopefully they can get a sense of what is going on. We encourage them to ask questions."
Staff Writer Martin Tsai can be contacted at 791-6335 or at: email@example.com
[Permission granted by The Portland Press Herald. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. © 2000 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc. ]
[Reprinted with Permission]