The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK)
Posted on August 1, 2001
By Randy Ellis
It is one thing to read how a judicial system works in theory. It’s another to see how it works in practice.
Four prominent Russian judges are in Oklahoma City this week to get a firsthand look at the U.S. justice system in action.
So far they’ve seen plenty they like. "Your system is much more flexible," said Victor Ivanovich Pashkov, chairman of Russia’s Altaiski Krai Territory Court.
Jury trials, alternative dispute mediation programs and the use of adversarial attorneys are all fixtures of the American legal system that the Russian judges are eyeing with interest.
The Russian judges – Pashkov, Alexandr Sergeyevich Nazarov, Olga Valentinovna Gavrilova, and Zoya Andreyevna Konyayeva – are in Oklahoma City this week, courtesy of the Library of Congress Open World Russian Leadership Exchange. Oklahoma City federal Judge Vicky Miles LaGrange has been serving as the host judge, and the Russian judges have been staying in the homes of members of the nonprofit National Peace Foundation.
Pashkov said the trip has come at a perfect time.
"A legal reform is underway in Russia at this time," he said. "The question of what the legal system should be is being decided."
Pashkov said that the Russian Federation began introducing jury trials to its judicial system in 1994, and such trials are being used in nine of federation’s 89 regions. Jury trials are expected to be introduced in all 89 regions by Jan. 1, 2003.
"I think that this is good," he said. "We, in our region, have been working with juries for seven years, and the decisions that are being reached are perceived and accepted positively by public opinion because common sense and practicality are part of decision-making process."
Pashkov said he has discovered his investigators are more thorough when they know a case is going before a jury because they are aware that a case that is not prepared professionally could fall apart.
Along with jury trials, Russian courts are seeing increased use of lawyers and the adversarial system. Under rules that govern Russian courts, the court bears the responsibility of proving a person guilty if a jury is not used, Pashkov said.
"In 50 percent of the criminal cases, no prosecutor is present," he said.
That leaves it up to the judge to fill the prosecutor’s role. Sometimes there is no defense attorney as well, and the judge assumes an additional role of defender, he said.
With juries, "a judge can truly judge," Pashkov said. "He is no longer forced to prove the guilt of the person."
Russian judges like that, he said, adding that "judges who have presided over jury trials no longer want to participate in cases tried the old way." The transition is not easy, however. Americans sometimes complain about having too many lawyers, but the opposite problem exists in Russia, Pashkov said. More lawyers not only are needed for criminal cases in Russia, but for civil cases as well. "Between 93 percent and 96 percent of all civil cases in Russia are resolved without the presence of a lawyers," Pashkov said.
Russia could increase its number of attorneys, but "the question is who is going to pay them," Pashkov said. "We have as many lawyers as can be supported by the population."
Gavrilova said, she and her Russian colleagues have become interested in mediation and other alternative methods of dispute resolution being used in the United States. In Russia, all civil cases are decided by judges, which puts a burden on the system, she said. Pashkov said, he likes the United States’ system of having both state laws and federal laws, which are enforced through state and federal courts.
Russia has a nationwide law system, he said. The advantage of state laws is that state lawmakers live closer to the people than federal legislators, and are in a better position to determine what problems are particularly dangerous to people in their state and what penalties are appropriate, he said. "If a new problem arises, a state Legislature can quickly make changes," he said. "Russia also may try to change laws, but it is much more problematic."
Copyright, 2001 Oklahoma Publishing Company.
From The Daily & Sunday Oklahoman.
Reprinted with permission
[Reprinted with Permission]