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Utah Judges, Lawyers Help Set Up Ukraine Judicial System

Utah Judges, Lawyers Help Set Up Ukraine Judicial System



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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- If the 4th District Court system has seemed just a little slower over the past year, maybe you could give the lawyers and judges a break.

Men and women of the area's legal community are traveling thousands of miles to help set up a judicial system in Kiev, Ukraine, that's based on trial by jury instead of trial by bribery.

Former Juab County Attorney David Leavitt says that while Ukraine's constitution allows for jury trials, the country has never had one. With the Leavitt Institute for International Development, he's hoping to change that by forming bonds with Ukraine's Supreme Court and law schools and teaching them of the advantages of the jury system.

"It became clear to us that the young intellectual minds are the best catalysts for change. When they are leading the country, they will implement it," Leavitt said.

From the students' perspective in a country just getting used to democracy, the idea of putting one's fate in the hands of strangers seemed sure to fail, says 4th District Judge Anthony Schofield.

"They were dumbfounded that we would put our trust in a jury of our peers," Schofield said. "I told them that we trust common everyday people to make legal decisions. They had a hard time getting a grasp of that."

The teachers who are going have met the task with excitement and curiosity. For two weeks, they teach in three different law schools for four hours a day. The students speak English, so there is no language barrier, and they are able to discuss what a jury trial could do for their country.

"I think they are really excited about an American or Western judicial system and more of a Western standard of living," Provo defense attorney Michael Petro said. He was in Kiev at the end of October and first of November, teaching ethics of jury selection and jury integrity.

The connection with Ukraine started 3 1/2 years ago when Leavitt and his wife, Chelom, who is also a lawyer, wanted to give his six children some culture. They signed up for the American Bar Association's Europe and Eurasia Division of the Rule of Law Initiative, where lawyers volunteer to reside in a host country for 12 to 24 months.

They arrived just 10 days before the Orange Revolution, where the people protested the government rigging the election by flooding the streets and staging sit-ins for six days. The Supreme Court overturned the election and a re-vote was ordered.

"It was probably the best civic lesson on freedom anyone could have," Leavitt said.

Leavitt said at that point he was emotionally involved in improving Ukraine and the legal system.

While there has never been a trial in the country, the Kiev students have seen them on American movies, 4th District Judge Donald Eyre said, noting that the students are well-versed in Western culture and the English language. Eyre was in Kiev in February.

"The kids are delightful over there, it's a country that's had a lot of hardships," Petro said.

The teachers all note that the students are skeptics, doubting that the jury system will work in their country that has been aching with poverty and corruption, despite efforts to reform.

Eyre said the judicial system is still based on a bribery system.

"It's very difficult for some type of entrenched system like that to be changed over night," he said.

The teachers said that the students had a difficult time understanding why a jury would not simply be incorporated into the bribery system, and be paid off as well.

But the teachers often cite the U.S. Constitution, and Leavitt adds that it boosts their own faith in the system set up by our Founding Fathers.

"Sometimes we get jaded by our own system because we don't see any thing different," he said.

Schofield and Eyre said they've never been offered bribes as judges, and Petro said he's never considered offering a judge a bribe as a defense attorney.

"It's interesting because it's not part of our system, I've never had it come up before," Petro said. "It's just so foreign to our system."

Leavitt said he is hoping that someday the Kiev students follow in the judges' and attorneys' footsteps who are teaching them. He said as word spreads of the institute, it's easier to find teachers to take two weeks off work and go to Ukraine.

"People call us now and ask if they can go," he said. "People generally have a desire to help and feel like they are doing some good."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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