Vermont Bar Journal
Welcome to America
THE VERMONT BAR JOURNALVolume 35, No. 2Summer 2009 Welcome to AmericaBy Hon. Dean B. PinelesFollowing my retirement as a Vermont trial judge, I served as a Legal Specialist with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative in Tbilisi, in the country of Georgia, from April 2008 through April 2009. Georgia is a developing democracy, and its leadership is attempting to bring about reforms within the judiciary and other parts of government to comply with international standards and hopefully gain admission to the European Union and NATO. I have been involved in several of the judicial reform efforts, and while the country has made considerable progress, there is much work yet to be done.
A proposal is pending in Parliament to establish an American-style adversarial system in the criminal courts, including jury trials in serious cases. This is a significant piece of legislation that would completely remove the vestiges of the former Soviet-style, prosecutor-dominated institution so familiar in years past. The proposal has the support of all key Georgian and international officials and organizations, but has been stalled because of various extraneous events, such as the war between Georgia and Russia last summer.
During the fall of 2008, I escorted a group of ten Georgian judges, none of whom had ever visited the United States or spoke English, to Boston, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island, for a "study tour" of the American legal system. Accompanying us were three Georgian attorneys, all of whom were fluent in English, who served as interpreters. The trip was an opportunity to introduce the Georgians to adversarial proceedings, and they were keenly interested in seeing an actual criminal jury trial. During our first three days in Boston, the judges observed various courtroom proceedings, but were disappointed that there were no jury trials to watch. In Providence, we were informed that a criminal jury trial was in progress, and that we would be able to watch the case from the back of the courtroom following a recess. The presiding judge would meet us during the recess to explain the case before we took our seats. There was great anticipation among the group; this is what they had been waiting for.
After a short wait in the hallway, the...