Alumni Teach Russians Democratic Trial Law

If you haven't held a jury trial in 86 years, would you know how? Not likely, according to a group of Willamette alumni who are among several Oregon judges, lawyers and law professors hosting a "college" for Russian legal colleagues this week at Willamette University College of Law. For the first time since Russia became a democratic country, some of the Northwest's best and brightest legal minds, including Oregon Supreme Court justices, are teaching Russian judges, attorneys and law professors how to run fair and impartial jury trials. The weeklong seminar will culminate in a mock murder trial on Friday, which will be held in both Russian and English at Willamette University College of Law.

Russia hasn't held a jury trial since the Revolution in 1917. However, with the fall of the U.S.S.R., the Russian Federation adopted a new constitution in 1993 that guaranteed a democratic rule of law that includes fair and impartial trials by juries that are based on constitutional principles and legal rules. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has called jury trials a "cornerstone of Russian's economic recovery and eventual success in the world market." The problem is that no one in Russia knows exactly how to implement such a system. "There's no one alive who's seen a Russian trial by jury," says Oregon Supreme Court Justice Paul J. DeMuniz JD'75, who is chair of the Sakhalin-Oregon Rule of Law Partnership and has organized the program at Willamette University College of Law. "No one in Russia has any practical experience."

DeMuniz, who is joined by other Oregon legal heavyweights, including Oregon Supreme Court Justice Michael Gillette, Washington County District Attorney Robert Hermann JD'74 BA'71, Oregon Court of Appeals Judge David Brewer, Willamette law professor David Clark and Salem attorney, Robert Cannon JD'72, are part of the Sakhalin-Oregon Justice College: Russian Trial Advocacy Seminar, a unique, first-of-its kind partnership of American and Russian legal communities to bring American-style jury trials to Russia. Eighteen months ago, DeMuniz and the other members of the Justice College traveled to the island of Sakhalin, a community of about 70,000 inhabitants on an oil-rich speck of land in the Russian Far East, 60 miles north of Japan. The group held seminars, giving their Russian counterparts their first taste of adversarial justice and jury trials.

Now the Russians have come to America to get some hands-on experience in American-style justice. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Foundation for Russian-American Economic Cooperation and the Library of Congress Open World Program, the group is currently hosting seven Russians – two judges, two prosecutors, one criminal defense lawyer and two law professors. They've been attending a variety of seminars on how legal disputes are resolved under an adversarial system of justice. On Friday, the Russians will pair with their American counterparts to hone their skills in a mock trial that will be simultaneously translated in Russian.

The Oregon-Sakhalin partnership has resulted in the creation of a jury trial research center at Sakhalin State University in Russia. All of this week's proceedings, including the mock trial will be filmed and translated into Russian, and will used as training materials for future Russian judges and attorneys.