Four prominent Russian judges will spend July 28-August 4 in Oklahoma City 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 participating 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. judges 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 host judge for the distinguished Russian visitors to Oklahoma City is Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, who serves on the International Relations Committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference. She has also served as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma and an Oklahoma state senator. The host organization is the National Peace Foundation, a nonprofit group that sponsors democratization activities in Russia. The Russian judges will stay in the private homes of members of the National Peace Foundation.
In Oklahoma City, the Russian delegation will observe court proceedings and have working meetings with federal and state court judges, U.S. magistrates, and bankruptcy judges. The program includes 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Robert Henry; Chief Judge David Russell, Senior Judge Ralph Thompson, Judge Wayne Alley, Judge Robin Cauthron, and Judge Tim Leonard, all of the U.S. District Court; judges of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals; and the justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Judge Nan Patton of the Oklahoma County Juvenile Court will also participate.
The Russian judges will have the opportunity to see the U.S. justice system in action by attending civil and criminal court proceedings; they will also observe a naturalization ceremony and meet with the deans and law professors at the Oklahoma City University Law School and the University of Oklahoma School of Law. Briefings on court organization, jury trials, and other judicial practices will be conducted by federal court personnel and private attorneys. The Russian visitors are scheduled to have information sessions with Mayor Kirk Humphreys and the City Council, U.S. Attorney Dan Webber, Public Defender Susan Otto, and Chief of Police M.T. Berry. They will tour the local Federal Bureau of Investigation facility and the Federal Transfer Center.
Among the sites the Russian judges will visit are the State Capitol, the Governor's Mansion, and the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial and Museum. The Russian delegation will get an introduction to some Oklahoma traditions by touring the Cowboy Hall of Fame, watching the North American Team Roping Finals, and sampling Oklahoma barbeque.
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 Oklahoma City 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 Oklahoma City includes Judge Olga Valentinovna Gavrilova, chairperson of the Shuisk City Court; Judge Zoya Andreyevna Konyayeva of the Pavlovski District Court of the Altaiski Krai Territory; Judge Aleksandr Sergeyevich Nazarov, deputy chairperson, Oktyabrski District Court; and Judge Viktor Ivanovich Pashkov, chairperson of the Altaiski Krai Court. They were selected for the program on the basis of their strong interest in judicial reform and their high level of professional accomplishment. Before arriving in Oklahoma City, the judges will have attended orientation sessions in Moscow and Washington, D.C., that provided an overview of the American political and judicial systems.
The pilot project in which Oklahoma City 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. Peoria, Illinois, and Baltimore, Maryland, will be hosting Open World judicial delegations at the same time as Oklahoma City.
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.