The Alaska justice system’s historic partnership with the legal community of Khabarovsk began with a visit to Alaska by Justice John Dooley of the Vermont Supreme Court. Justice Dooley had been active in creating partnerships between various court systems in the eastern United States and the western regions of Russia, under the umbrella of a not-for-profit organization—the Russian-American Rule of Law Consortium. After learning how existing partnerships had begun and flourished between the eastern states of our country and the western regions in Russia, the Alaska Supreme Court decided to participate. The choice of Khabarovsk, in the Russian Far East, was urged by Court of Appeals Judge David Mannheimer, who had visited the region.
The partnership began officially in December 2001, with Judge Mannheimer and myself as co-chairs working with a steering committee of lawyers, judges, and active community members. An initial expression of these efforts involved a visit to Khabarovsk by Judge Patricia Collins and lawyer Steve Yoshida.
In June 2002, we hosted our first partner visit by judges and lawyers from Khabarovsk to Alaska. The purpose of this visit was to plan for the future of the partnership. Because we needed orientation regarding current issues in Khabarovsk and the Khabarovsk jurists, in turn, desired an overview of the Alaska legal system, these initial sessions covered many topics—judicial independence, jury trials in criminal cases, court administration, and development of the legal profession.
The first formal partnership conference took place in Khabarovsk in September 2002. The theme of that initial program in Russia was legal reforms, including a focus on the new Russian Code of Criminal Procedure.
March 2003 brought another Khabarovsk delegation to Anchorage to discuss court management, organization of the bar association, ethics, Alaska’s court observer program, and the place of volunteers. The following September, Khabarovsk lawyers and judges working with Russia’s new jury system came to Anchorage for a week of jury trial observation and study. That trip was followed by a conference in Khabarovsk in December that Alaska Federal Public Defender Rich Curtner and Judge Eric Smith helped to facilitate.
Judge Collins took over the role of co-chair, replacing Judge Mannheimer in 2004. In September 2004, yet another group from Khabarovsk came to Anchorage and Juneau to study commercial court issues and bankruptcy law. The following June, Rich Curtner with Justice Paul DeMuniz of the Oregon Supreme Court taught a class on the jury at the law school in Khabarovsk. This was followed by a conference on civil litigation for legal practitioners in Khabarovsk, in which Judge Patricia Collins and then-Chief Justice Alexander O. Bryner participated.
The past two years have been equally rich in programming. In September 2005, a delegation of Russian women lawyers and judges came to Alaska for a view of our handling of family violence and juvenile justice issues. A juvenile justice conference was held in Khabarovsk in June 2006 with retired judge Elaine Andrews, Justice Walter L. Carpeneti and Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho participating from Alaska. Therapeutic and preventative models for community-court cooperation were presented, along with the concepts behind children’s advocates in our courts. September 2006 brought another group from Khabarovsk to learn Alaska’s approach to court transparency and court employee ethics.
Our pattern of hosting a group of Khabarovsk lawyers, judges, law professors and court administrators in Alaska as a prelude to a larger conference on the same topic in Khabarovsk has proven to be a successful model. This past year I traveled with Judge Collins and Deputy Attorney General Rick Svobodny to Khabarovsk to discuss court transparency issues, the role of technology, privacy issues, public accountability, and the effect of all of these on the criminal justice system. Last September, we hosted a group in Alaska to focus on the voir dire process, public access to the courts, media issues, and the role of plea-bargaining.
The history of this project is more than a mere chronology: It shows the evolution of a sophisticated dialogue between legal professionals and those affected by the courts. While cultural, political, and geographic differences have created features particular to the Russian and American systems, our goals are the same: to improve justice in our communities, creating and maintaining fair, predictable, accessible courts.
Marla Greenstein is Executive Director of the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct and co-chair of the KAROL partnership.