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New Russian Justices of the Peace Study Connecticut Courts Through Open World Program
September 17, 2004

For Immediate Release

Connecticut Judges Host Delegates From Their “Sister Judiciary” in Pskov Region

Washington, DC – Seven Russian justices of the peace from the northwestern region of Pskov will spend Sept. 18–25 in New Haven, Hartford, Middletown, and Cheshire learning about the Connecticut legal system through the Open World Program, the only exchange program in the U.S. legislative branch. The visiting Russian judges will take part in Open World’s specialized rule of law program, the largest U.S.-Russia judicial exchange. The Russians’ study trip is being hosted by Superior Court Judges Jonathan E. Silbert and Michael R. Sheldon, the chair and vice chair of the Connecticut-Pskov Rule of Law Project, a three-year-old partnership between the legal communities of Connecticut and Pskov Region.

Through Open World’s rule of law program, Russian jurists get a firsthand look at the U.S. judicial system and develop long-term working relationships with the U.S. federal and state judges who plan and conduct their local visits. Recent major judicial reforms in Russia, including the expansion of jury trials nationwide, make Open World’s rule of law program especially timely, as it provides the visiting judges with valuable opportunities not only to study the nuts and bolts of relevant American judicial procedures, but also to gain insight into how the American political system protects judicial independence and promotes the rule of law.

The delegates’ Connecticut schedule will enable them to observe and discuss with state judges the same sorts of cases that Russian justice of the peace courts handle, such as those involving divorce, landlord-tenant disputes, and petty theft. Because Russian JPs are exploring alternatives to trials and to incarceration, they will also study Connecticut courts’ approaches to pretrial settlement, plea bargaining, and community service, including the work of the innovative Hartford Community Court.

In New Haven, the host city, the Russians will attend a New Haven County Bar Association reception and tour Yale University (Sept. 21 and 24). In Hartford, they will observe plea bargaining sessions, and family, civil, criminal, and community court proceedings; hold discussions with Superior Court judges; meet with state Supreme Court Chief Justice William J. Sullivan; and tour the State Capitol and the Mark Twain House (Sept. 20–21).

In Cheshire, the JPs will tour the Cheshire Correctional Institute (Sept. 22). In Middletown, they will view trials and civil pretrial settlement conferences at Middletown Superior Court (Sept. 24). They will also visit the state crime lab in Meriden (Sept. 22).

The seven Russian justices of the peace from Pskov traveling to Connecticut through Open World are Elena Alekseyeva, Stanislav Fyodorov-Semionov, Vera Kallas, Viktor Murin, Nadezhda Sergeyeva, Irina Sorokina, and Viktor Zhbankov.

Russia only revived the czarist institution of the justice of the peace court in 1998, and most of the country’s JPs have been appointed within the last three years. The goal of reintroducing these courts was to bring justice closer to the people, and to help deal with the heavy caseload of Russia’s overburdened district courts. Justices of the peace hear petty civil cases and, with some exceptions, those criminal cases carrying a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment or less. The closest U.S. equivalent to a Russian justice of the peace is a magistrate judge. Many of Russia’s new JPs were previously lawyers, but a significant number were also teachers, notaries, investigators, and police officers.

Managed by the Open World Leadership Center at the Library of Congress, Open World enables emerging political and civic leaders from Russia and other participating countries to work with their U.S. counterparts and to experience American-style democracy in action. More than 8,000 participants from all 89 Russian regions have stayed in all 50 U.S. states since Open World began in 1999. Over the last year, Open World has also initiated pilot exchanges with Lithuania, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Open World participants range from members of parliament to mayors, from innovative nonprofit directors to experienced journalists, and from political party activists to regional administrators. The program’s administering agency, the Open World Leadership Center, is an independent legislative branch entity that works cooperatively with the U.S. Department of State and other U.S. executive and judicial branch agencies.

Open World has awarded a grant to the Russian American Rule of Law Consortium (RAROLC) to administer the Connecticut visit and similar exchanges in 2004. RAROLC serves as an umbrella organization for volunteer-based rule-of-law partnerships pairing the legal communities of a number of Russian regions and U.S. states. The Connecticut-Pskov Rule of Law Project is a RAROLC partnership.

For more information on this visit, contact Rhonda Stearley-Hebert at 860-757-2270 or George Felcyn at 202-466-6210. For more background on Open World, please see