Four prominent Russian judges will spend July 28–August 4 in Peoria, Illinois, studying the U.S. justice system and meeting with their American counterparts and other civic leaders as part of the Library of Congress Open World Russian Leadership exchange. The judges are taking part in a pilot project on the rule of law designed to provide firsthand exposure to American judicial practices and to promote the development of working relationships between leading U.S. and Russian judges. The Library is conducting the project in cooperation with the Judicial Conference of the United States, the chief policymaking body of the federal courts.
The distinguished Russian visitors to Peoria will be hosted by Judge Michael M. Mihm, the U.S. district judge for the Central District of Illinois and the former chair and a current member of the Judicial Conference's Committee on International Judicial Relations. Judge Mihm has extensive experience working with members of the Russian judiciary on judicial reform issues.
A primary goal of the Open World rule-of-law pilot project is to help further the progress of judicial reform in Russia, a crucial element in that country's transition to a democratic society. As former U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation James Collins recently noted during one of his last press conferences as ambassador, "If in fact the priority for [President Vladimir] Putin and the administration is to modernize the economy . . . and participate fully in the system of industrial democracies, then [Russia's leaders will] have to ensure that rule of law is the principle of the future." The visit of the Russian judges to Peoria comes as the Russian Parliament is considering Putin's sweeping judicial reform package, which includes provisions to introduce jury trials on a limited basis, revamp the criminal code, impose new restrictions on the powers of prosecutors, and improve judges' pay while removing their lifetime tenure and immunity from prosecution.
The Open World exchange, also known in its two pilot years as the Russian Leadership Program, brings young emerging Russian political and civic leaders to the United States for intensive short-term visits that expose them to the workings of America's democratic and free enterprise system through high-level, substantive meetings and on-site experiences. Some 3,650 participants from virtually all of Russia's 89 regions have been hosted in 48 states and the District of Columbia since the program's inception in June 1999. Dr. James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress and the chair of the Open World 1999 and 2000 pilots, provided the vision for the program in a 1999 speech to members of Congress. Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, sponsored the legislation that created and extended the program; he also sponsored legislation that authorized the new, permanent Center for Russian Leadership at the Library of Congress to house the program and will serve as honorary chairman of the center's board of trustees.
The Open World judicial delegation visiting Peoria includes Anatoliy Vladimirovich Astanin from Altai Krai, a region in western Siberia; Vladimir Vyacheslavovich Poletov, from the Ivanovo region, east of Moscow; Alimzhan Kayumovich Shaymerdyanov, from the Vladimir region, located between Moscow and the Ivanovo region; and Yuri Leonardovich Sobina, from the Moscow region. The judges were selected for the program on the basis of their strong interest in judicial reform and their high level of professional accomplishment. All have been elected by their colleagues to head their respective regional councils of judges.
Before arriving in Peoria, the judges are attending orientation sessions in Moscow and Washington, D.C., that provide an overview of the American political and judicial systems. In Peoria they will observe a jury trial, if one is in session, and meet with federal and state judges and attorneys to discuss court organization, jury trial practices and problems, jury selection, relations between the judiciary and attorneys and legislators, and other issues. They also will hear from local television and newspaper journalists on judiciary and media relations. They are scheduled to tour the federal and state courthouses, Bradley University, the Wildlife Prairie Park, and other local sites.
On Thursday, August 2, the Russian judges will assemble in Judge Mihm's courtroom for a historic special event. In honor of their visit, the Illinois Supreme Court has permitted the state Court of Appeals for the area, which normally sits in Ottawa, to hold their sessions in Judge Mihm's courtroom and hear oral arguments in one civil and one criminal case. The three justices on the panel will meet with the Russian participants for an hour before the oral arguments to discuss appellate review of trial court decisions. All local attorneys and judges will be invited to the oral arguments.
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride will speak at a lunch that will follow, and the Russian judges will be asked to comment on judicial reform in the Russian Federation.
The pilot project in which Peoria is participating grew out of Open World 2000's successful and timely rule-of-law programming, in which 103 Russian judges and five members of the Russian Parliament took part. "During the 2000 Open World exchange we learned a great deal about how to design a program that will support judicial reform efforts in Russia," noted Dr. Billington. "Our new partnership with the Judicial Conference of the United States will further improve the quality of our rule-of-law program and provide opportunities for Russian and American members of the judiciary to build professional relationships," he continued. Seven senior federal and state judges around the country will host a total of 36 leading Russian judges this summer and fall under the Open World Program. Baltimore and Oklahoma City will be hosting Open World judicial delegations at the same time as Peoria.
The American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS is managing the logistical and administrative aspects of the rule-of-law pilot program on behalf of the Library.