The Forum (Fargo, ND)
Posted on September 9, 2002
By By Jeff Zent
A group of Russian judges will travel to Fargo this week to learn about the American justice system.
The judges are among Russian leaders who are building a new democracy from the ashes of communism.
Part of that new democracy - the Russian Federation - includes judicial reform, said Andrew Conteh, a political science professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Conteh, a former Sierra Leone ambassador to Russia, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Klein will host the five judges during their three-day visit to Fargo.
"Even though it's been several years since the demise of the Soviet Union, they are still in the process of reforming and reshaping their government institutions and obviously their economy," Klein said. "This trip will give judicial officers from Russia an opportunity to observe the American judiciary and how it operates."
The Russian judges will arrive in Fargo Tuesday. During the next three days, they will attend federal and state court proceedings and meet with local judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and court administrators, Klein said.
"I think that we need to be sensitive to the fact that they are not here for us to just force our system down their throats, but that we're here for an exchange," she said.
On Thursday, the judges will attend a panel discussion at the Fargo Theatre in downtown Fargo.
The discussion, a comparison of the two nations' judicial systems, will feature U.S. District Judge Rodney Webb and North Dakota Chief Supreme Court Justice Gerald VandeWalle. The panel discussion from 5:30-7 p.m., is free and open to the public.
Russia wants to build a judicial system more resistant to corruption and political influence, said Conteh, who studied Soviet law at the University of Kiev in the Ukraine.
The visiting judges want to learn how U.S. courts administer jury trials because their country is incorporating the jury system, Klein said.
The judges are guests of the U.S.-funded Open World Program, created by Congress three years ago to build mutual understanding between the two countries. Open World has brought more than 4,200 Russian visitors to the United States since 1999.
The judges, accompanied by two interpreters, will be the first to visit North Dakota under the Open World Program.
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