OKLA. CITY —
The Open World Foundation was created by the U.S. Congress in 1990 to provide advice and support to the states that had formerly been part of the Soviet Union that were seeking to create democratic institutions after decades of communist rule. The foundation encouraged people-to-people contacts between leaders of those newly independent states and their counterparts in America by sending delegations of American officeholders to those nations.
In time the foundation began to bring leaders from those states to the U.S. to allow them to observe the workings of American democracy first-hand. In recent years the foundation has expanded its operations to include other parts of the world, and last week a delegation of six judges from the Republic of Turkey were in the courtroom of chief federal Judge Vickie Miles Legrange where they witnessed a defendant plead guilty to a criminal charge as part of a program sponsored by the foundation.
According to Professor Marion Paden of Oklahoma City Community College, and Downtown Rotary of Oklahoma City, which is one of the sponsors of the program, the Turkish judges began their American journey with an orientation in Washington, D.C., that gave them training in the operation of the federal judiciary in the American legal system. The Turkish jurists then made their way to Oklahoma City along with two interpreters.
In addition to their observation of the federal judicial system in Oklahoma, the judges also participated in a program at OU Law School that included a lecture by Dean Michael Scaperlanda on legal ethics and professional responsibility. They also met with Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater and an Oklahoma County public defender who explained to them how the plea bargaining process works in state court. Oklahoma Supreme Court Justices Tom Colbert, John Reif, Yvonne Kauger and Noma Gurich gave them a tour of the Oklahoma Supreme Court building and explained how that court reviews decisions made by the state’s lower courts.
The visiting jurists were told of how the mediation process works in Oklahoma by attorney Steve Barghols. The visiting judges were also given a tour of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the Chickasaw Cultural Center and Oklahoma City Community College. Before they left Oklahoma City the Turkish judges gathered in Judge Miles Legrange’s office and spoke about their experience. They were uniformly impressed with the mediation process that is currently in place in Oklahoma, and said that a somewhat similar program is being started in Turkey.
Several of them expressed reservations about the trial by jury system and said that they believed that trial before a judge alone, which is the practice in Turkey, worked better for all parties. But all of the jurists said that they were impressed with the dedication and professionalism of all of the people whom they met with in Oklahoma.
WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.