East meets west: Officials from Republic of Georgia visit Metro Detroit

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News
    

Five legal professionals from the Republic of Georgia enjoyed an 8-day visit to Detroit last month, guests of the nonprofit International Visitors Council of Detroit (IVC Detroit) whose mission is to promote the city as a center of international commerce and culture, and connect it with emerging leaders from around the world.    

The quintet in this Open World Leadership Program — a nonpartisan initiative of, and funded by, the U.S. Congress — came to interact and learn from the area’s robust network of legal organizations and professionals, notes Marian Reich, executive director of IVC Detroit.

“The goal was to understand Rule of Law in the United States better, especially the adversarial system, structure of courts, jury system, and family courts,” she explains. “The agenda was structured to meet the delegation’s professional goals and interests, and give a more complete view of the various roles in law in this country, and specifically in Michigan.”

The group met with Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young, the highest black elected official serving the State of Michigan; Colleen Pero from Pero Consulting and the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners; Robert Sedler, Distinguished Professor of Law at Wayne State University Law School where he teaches courses in Constitutional Law and Conflict of Laws; Detroit native Barbara McQuade, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan; Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, the first woman to ever hold that position; Wayne County 36th District Court Judge Katherine Hansen; Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Talon; and staff at the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice.

The Georgian visitors included Diana Berekashvili, a judge in Tbilisi City Court since 2005, and previously a lawyer in local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and a law professor in various law schools, who also conducted TV and radio programs on legal issues.

Irakli Dondoladze, a lawyer in the office of International Affairs of the Prosecution Service of Georgia, is the U.S. embassy’s key contact on Leahy clearance issues for the training of Georgian law enforcement.

“Leahy clearance is very important to advance the goals of the U.S. government without compromising our commitment to due process, as it blocks persons who have engaged in human rights violations from receiving USG training and assistance,” Reich explains.

Dondoladze also advises prosecutors on international law and practice and prepares professional standards and case law reviews from international courts and tribunals. “Georgia recently became signatory to the Association Agreement of EU, and Irakli was particularly interested in finding out how to bring Georgian laws close with the European norms,” Reich notes.   

According to Reich, Dondoladze noted that several local cases of government corruption were discussed.

“He found this especially interesting and surprising as Georgians are facing similar issues,” she adds.

Defense lawyer Ia Gabedava is a member of the Georgian Bar Association (GBA), and was elected to the GBA Ethics Committee last December. The defense bar has been a weak link in the criminal justice system in Georgia for years, due to deliberate marginalization of the bar by the government, and lack of professionalism among lawyers, Reich explains, adding that the role of assisting lawyers in professional growth, participating in professional improvement through evaluation and training, and voicing the defense perspective in multi-agency discussions, is increasingly important.

Ana Natsvlishvili, parliamentary secretary (Legislative Proposals), Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), is a project lawyer at a project funded by USAID/JILEP (Judicial Independence and Legal Empowerment Project), aimed at increasing independence of judiciary and implemented by GYLA. She works in the area of judicial reform advocacy; and monitors activities of the High Council of Justice of Georgia.

“Ana explained how new emerging democracies have many issues to deal with,” Reich says. “A major issue is how to deal with human rights violations committed over the last 9 years, alleged involvement of some ex-officials, how to do investigations, charges, and give them a fair trial, and redress of the victims.”

According to Reich, Natsvlishvili noted that blighted neighborhoods, abandoned houses and poverty they saw in certain areas seemed atypical for the United States. “But the group mentioned that so many Detroiters and organizations such as Sugar Law Center are working to overcome poverty and helping to alleviate situation,” Reich adds.

Badri Niparishvili is Chief of Staff for the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Georgia, and hopes to become a judge. He is a secretary of the Opinion Drafting Working Group, created at the Supreme Court and uniting international advisers and Georgian professionals. “Badri was particularly interested in the implementation of the adversarial process, and reasoning of judgments,” Reich says. “And he was interested to learn about the grand jury process, as this concept was new to them.”

The group was very impressed by the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, created by Congress and providing assistance to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies.     

“They admired the simple advice in the HIDTA model: that in order to defeat drug trafficking you must destroy the market — difficult to achieve but a good goal,” Reich says.

The delegates — who were accompanied by Open World facilitator Nino Janiashvili; Georgian-English interpreter Ia Dzmashvili; and IVC Detroit Special Projects Director Judy Kebl — were also impressed by the collaborative models, inter-agency cooperation and information sharing; and cooperation with international agencies described by staff at the U.S. Attorney Office.

The Georgians — two of whom had previously visited Washington, D.C. — were guests of local host families in nearby suburbs. “They were able to experience a true cultural exchange and understand American life from an insider’s perspective,” Reich says.    

Trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, and a D:Hive bus tour of Detroit gave the visitors a flavor of Motor City — as did a lunch at American Coney Island, where hot dogs have been a favorite for Detroiters for nearly a century. Shopping was also an enjoyable activity for the group, who in addition to their new knowledge of U.S. legal processes, also left with souvenirs of their visit to the Great Lakes State.

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