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North Dakota Visit Comes as Russia Begins Implementing Putin Administration Judicial Reforms
September 5, 2002

Washington, DC-Five leading Russian judges will spend September 10-14, 2002, in Fargo, ND, studying the U.S. federal and state court systems with their North Dakota counterparts and other members of the Fargo legal establishment. The Russian judges are part of a high-level rule of law exchange sponsored by the Open World Program, the only exchange program housed in the U.S. legislative branch. This is the first Open World delegation to be hosted in North Dakota.

Managed by the Center for Russian Leadership Development, an independent agency based at the Library of Congress, Open World brings emerging Russian leaders to the United States for an in-depth, on-site introduction to American democratic institutions. Open World conducts its landmark rule of law program for Russian jurists in cooperation with the International Judicial Relations Committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference, the federal courts' policymaking body. A top U.S. federal or state judge plans and participates in the local schedule of each Open World rule of law delegation.

Magistrate Judge Karen K. Klein of the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota is the judicial host for the Russian judges visiting Fargo. The delegation includes a judge on the Tver Regional Court (Tver is in western Russia, north of Moscow); a district court judge from Novgorod (a region in northwestern Russia); two judges on the Petrozavodsk City Court (Petrozavodsk is the capital of Karelia, a republic in northwestern Russia that borders Finland); and the chair of a municipal court in Arkhangelsk (the capital of Arkhangelsk Region, which borders the Barents and White Seas). Three of the judges are women. Russia's recent adoption of major judicial reforms proposed by President Vladimir Putin makes the judges' visit to Fargo especially timely.

While in Fargo, the Russian judges will meet with Governor John Hoeven, observe proceedings at the federal courthouse; meet with federal judges and the Clerk of the U.S. District Court; visit the Cass County District Court to observe and discuss proceedings with state judges; participate in a roundtable at the Fargo Theater on comparative judicial systems with Chief U.S. District Judge Rodney S. Webb and North Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle (the event is open to the public); tour the Cass County Jail; meet with local prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers; attend a dinner with local bar association members; and visit Bonanzaville Pioneer Village and the Plains Art Museum.

The Academy for Educational Development is administering this exchange for Open World. AED's local partner, the Department of Political Science at Minnesota State University Moorhead, is helping arrange and conduct the judges' activities. The university contact for the Russian delegation's Fargo-area schedule is Dr. Andrew Conteh, Tel: 218-236-2942, E-mail:

Before traveling to North Dakota, the Russian judges are spending three days studying courts in St. Louis, MO. They begin their visit to the United States with an intensive two-day orientation session in Washington, DC, with Magistrate Judge Klein, several other U.S. judges, and officials from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Federal Judicial Center.

The Russian judges' Washington, St. Louis, and Fargo programs take into account the changes in the Russian court system legislated by the judicial reform package enacted last December. One of the main components of the Putin package is the expansion of jury trials nationwide. The extensive reforms also include provisions intended to enhance the status, accountability, and independence of the Russian judiciary by improving judges' pay, ending their lifetime tenure and immunity from prosecution, and overhauling the judicial appointment and promotion process.

Approximately 200 Russian judges will participate in Open World this year. In addition to its rule of law exchanges, Open World sponsors visits focusing on the environment, health, and other important themes. Participants include members of Russia's parliament, mayors, regional administrators, political party activists, and nongovernmental organization officials. Up to 2,500 Russians are expected to participate in Open World this year alone, and nearly 5,000 Open World visitors from all of Russia's 89 regions have been hosted since the program began in 1999. After the Fargo visit, all 50 U.S. states will have hosted Open World delegations. Program alumni represent a wide array of political parties and ethnic groups, and more than a third are women.

The nonprofit American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS is handling the logistics of the Russians' visit.