Three delegations of prominent Russian judges are spending July 25 to July 28 in Washington, D.C., prior to going to Peoria, Illinois, Oklahoma City, and Baltimore to study the U.S. justice system and meet with their American counterparts and other civic leaders as part of the Library of Congress Open World Russian Leadership exchange. The Russian 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. They were selected for the pilot project on the basis of their strong interest in judicial reform and their high level of professional accomplishment. The Library is conducting the project in cooperation with the Judicial Conference of the United States, the chief policymaking body of the federal courts.
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 the United States 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.
While in Washington, D.C., the Russian judges will participate in an orientation program that will give them an overview of the American political and judicial systems. Their Washington agenda includes high-level briefings on the structure and administration of the federal and state courts; legal education and ethics; the judiciary's relations with the legislative branch, the media, and the public; the role of juries; and the participants in and processing of civil and criminal cases. The judges will also tour the Supreme Court and the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building.
At the conclusion of their Washington program, four of the distinguished Russian visitors will travel to Peoria, four to Oklahoma City, and eight to Baltimore. They will stay in these cities from July 28 to August 4. The judges visiting Peoria will be hosted by U.S. District Judge Michael M. Mihm, those in Oklahoma City by U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange, and those in Baltimore by Judge Alan Wilner of the Maryland Court of Appeals. The host organization in Baltimore is the Vermont Karelia Rule of Law Project. In Oklahoma City, the host organization is the National Peace Foundation, and in Peoria it is the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS. Many of the judges will stay in private homes during their visits.
In their host cities, the Russian visitors will observe court proceedings and hold working meetings with federal and state judges, court personnel, and attorneys to discuss court organization, jury trials, and other topics. They are scheduled to tour federal and state courthouses, penal institutions, and other sites, and will hear from local journalists on judiciary and media relations. The judges will also have opportunities to share their insights on Russian approaches to judicial issues with their American counterparts and contacts.
On Thursday, August 2, the Peoria delegation 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 another city, 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.
Highlights of the program for the Russian judges staying in Baltimore include working meetings with Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and the Baltimore County State's Attorney and a trip to Annapolis to visit the appellate courts and tour the State House and the Judiciary Training Center.
The agenda for the Russian judges traveling to Oklahoma City includes observing and discussing a mock jury selection process, participating in a roundtable on alternative dispute resolution, and watching a juvenile court proceeding. Among the sites the Russian judges will visit are the State Capitol and the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial and Museum.
The pilot project in which the Russian judges are 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.
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.