Russia faced a slew of daunting tasks in the early 1990s following the break-up
of the Soviet Union; their path of reformation included settling the external
debt of the USSR, suppressing the remnants of rebellion and refining the judicial
system. For the latter assignment, the Russians turned to America in early
1996 for assistance. Upon their request, the US Congress contacted the Maryland
Judiciary; ultimately, then-Judge Alan M. Wilner, Court of Special Appeals
of Maryland, assumed the responsibility of assembling a three-man delegation
(including himself) and traveling to the Northern Russian territory of Karelia
to teach local government officials the procedures and various characteristics
of a jury trial, which Russia had not performed in nearly 80 years.
there be jury trials for
certain cases, but . . .
there was hardly
anybody alive in
Russia that had seen
a jury trial.
Hon. Alan M. Wilner
"At the time, the Russian constitution required there be jury trials for
certain cases," Wilner explains, "but they hadn't done them since 1917. There
was hardly anybody alive in Russia that had seen a jury trial."
Wilner was appointed to this mission due to his status as the Maryland representative
in the "Rule of Law Project," a federally-funded program created by the US
State Department. This project aligned various American states with Russian
regions in order to expand the field of international judiciary involvement
and develop friendly relations.
Good intentions aside, Wilner still harbored a few reservations prior to
making his first visit to Russia. After all, his grandparents had "fled Russia
in terror" earlier in the century before coming to America, and he (along with
his travel companions then-Court of Appeals Judge Howard S. Chasanow and then-Attorney
General Joseph Curran) had lived through the height of the cold war. When he
arrived, relations with the Russian delegates were "a little frosty," but the
ice soon melted.
"When you talk to them, socially, you realize they are just like us," says
Wilner. "They are intelligent, cultured and they knew a great deal more about
the United States than the Americans knew about Russia."
The cavalry's arrival spread like wildfire through the frigid territory and
enticed a delegation from Leningrad to travel north to Karelia. There, the
group from Leningrad befriended the Maryland representatives and brought them
to St. Petersburg for a tour. Wilner's stay was short, but a few months later
he arrived in Russia again and saw that they had made significant strides.
He had sent the group from Leningrad a Russian-dubbed videotape that dissected
the many aspects of a jury trial, including jury selection, deliberation, challenges
and statements from the attorneys.
The Russians were now ready for a jury trial. Approximately 30 prosecutors,
30 judges and 20 attorneys were taught using a scripted mock-trial case and
then, three days later, an actual trial was held as the local media swarmed
the St. Petersburg courtroom, which had hosted the last jury trial before the
"It was a huge event,"
says Wilner. "So that started the relationship on a very high note. And from
that, we just expanded into a bunch of different areas."
The success Wilner and the Maryland Judiciary experienced in Russia was special,
but not entirely unique. Numerous Maryland judges and court-related officials
have spent a sufficient amount of time traveling to other countries and spreading
the components of the Maryland Court foundation. For example, Howard County
Circuit Court Administrative Judge Diane O. Leasure traveled to the Republic
of Georgia on behalf of the World Bank Project in the summer of 2002. She was
there to speak of judicial reform and emphasize case-flow management, roles
of an Administrative Judge and the principals of case management.
Nestled along the eastern shore of the Black Sea, Georgia's contrastive judicial
system shocked Leasure as she cited the country's inability to "control the
dockets" and how the attorneys controlled the cases.
"Attorneys could walk right out of a case if they didn't like the way things
were going," notes Leasure.
Conversely, District Court of Maryland Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn noted the
Croatian government's strong-handed involvement during his travels in late-September
"The Judge really conducts the proceedings, and the lawyers are not as active," explains
"The lawyers get to make the opening and closing statements, but in terms of
the cross- and direct examinations, the Judge does that. And then the Judge
dictates to the stenographer what the records should reflect."
Already well-versed in foreign relations due to similar interactions with
Nigeria and China on behalf of Maryland's District Court, Clyburn traveled
to Croatia as that nation was rebuilding from its civil war and looking to
model its courts after Maryland's District Court system in terms of independence
"When you are taken out of your environment, you get to really come back
[and] appreciate what you have," says Clyburn. "You appreciate your strengths,
plus you appreciate your weaknesses."
While the professional reward of spreading democratic values across the globe
is quite grand, the personal satisfaction of aiding your fellow man is greatly
appreciated and evident through the displays of good-nature these judges have
received. Wilner, who has traveled to Russia over 20 times since his initial
1996 visit and planed his next trip for the spring of 2007, received several
condolences via e-mail from Russian colleagues on September 12, 2001, not to
mention being named an Honorary Professor at the Leningrad Regional State University
Law School. Clyburn continues his relations with the countries he has visited
and is currently being courted by Shanghai for a visit. In a global society
where lines are drawn over skin color, religion and nationality, these men
and women of the Maryland Judiciary forge beyond such barriers for the greater
good of human rights.
"It was an indescribable experience," reflects Leasure. "I worked with gracious
individuals… traveled the country and its courtrooms. It is one highlight
of my judicial career."