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Indiana court official visits Ukraine to discuss court access

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A recent trip to the Ukraine in Eastern Europe has brought new energy and ideas to improving public access and civic involvement in Indiana courts.

Dave Remondini, the second-in-command of the Indiana Division of State Court Administration, made a 19-day trip to the Ukraine in March as part of an ongoing effort the United States is making to help the Ukraine improve its judicial independence and establish more of a democracy.

reemoA-15col Dave Remondini in the Indiana Supreme Court’s Division of State Court Administration visited the Ukraine recently to discuss court access and media relations. He was walking down a main street in Odessa when a film crew approached to interview him about his impression about the area and need for news coverage of the tourism industry. (Submitted photo)

His visit comes at a time when Indiana, and courts throughout the U.S., are pushing to improve public access to the nation’s judiciary and strengthen civic knowledge and involvement among those who live here.

“The people there are working so far to do the right thing in terms of opening courts up to the public and getting people more involved,” said Remondini, who serves as the division’s chief deputy director. “It gave me a lot of hope and confidence, just a lot of belief, that some of that same energy can be used here.”

As part of a U.S. Agency for International Development program known as the Ukraine Rule of Law Project, this effort works to increase the country’s judicial independence and transparency as well as strengthen the ability of people to access justice through a still-developing democratic system.

This visit ties in with several through the years that maintain the ongoing relationship between Indiana’s judiciary and those in the Ukraine, bringing judges and legal community members to Indiana periodically to see how the state system operates. The last visit was in 2010 and focused on legal aid. Remondini said this was his third visit to that province in the past four years.

“We have similar goals of trying to open up communication within our courts,” he said.

Organizationally, the differences between the Indiana and Ukraine judiciaries are vast – 90 judges sit on appellate courts in the Ukraine. In that country, about 60 percent of the judiciary is female and the appellate courts are divided up regionally into four general jurisdiction levels: civil, criminal, administrative, and military. The court there considers more than 12,000 cases a year by 25 judges, with generally only about 30 percent having arguments.

But that country’s court structure is still in its infancy, since there was no judicial review or any Supreme Court under the Soviet Union before its collapse in 1991. A new constitution created in 1996 formed the current judiciary, but global criminal justice studies and even reviews done by the Ukraine’s own justice ministry in recent years show that judicial independence is outlined only in principle. The public tends to regard the courts as corrupt, with only 10 percent trusting the system and less than 30 percent believing a fair trial is even possible.

In February, Ukraine Supreme Court Chief Justice Vasyl Onopenko told a newspaper in Kyiv, “Courts as judicial bodies and judges have lost their independence. This is a direct threat to the judicial protection of human rights.”

As it stands now, permission is needed from five judges in lower courts to allow that Supreme Court to even review a case. If a case isn’t allowed to proceed, the parties have no other choice but to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights that governs a larger group of countries and areas within Europe.

Remondini compared the Ukraine’s current social and economic structure to what the U.S. looked like in the early 20th century, with huge corporate and economic interests holding a lot of sway and some influential power brokers setting the tone for how the country operates.

reemoB-15col Sitting on a panel with other U.S. and Ukrainian court officials, Indiana’s Dave Remondini discusses media relations and court access as part of a federal project helping that eastern European country’s judiciary become more accessible and transparent. (Submitted photo)

“There’s some concern among the U.S. that the Ukraine is backsliding away from democracy, and there are many there who are very interested in forestalling that,” Remondini said, noting that the country’s cultural dichotomy is split geographically between the West and the rest of Russia and that creates tension in how everything is run. “With this project, we’ll see what the U.S. government thinks about what is going on there in the courts and what happens next.”

Despite vast differences in structure and type of courts, the U.S. and Ukraine systems are able to communicate generally on issues such as the focus of Remondini’s recent visit – media relations.

“The project is trying to increase transparency in the court system there,” he said. “The idea is that people can have confidence in a system if the cases are assigned randomly by a case management system and attorneys or politicians aren’t picking judges. That’s one way to fight corruption.”

Some of the political and structural issues spill into media relations within the Ukrainian courts, he said. As a result, there’s a higher degree of reluctance generally to engage with the media there.

“Some have vivid memories of Soviet Union control, and there’s still a hangover from that time that makes them reluctant to question authority and branch out their own initiatives,” he said. “That slows down court progress and they’re still wrestling with that.”

Still, some of the issues that the Ukraine courts are facing look similar to what courts in the U.S., including Indiana’s judiciary, are going through in terms of court access. He spent nine full days teaching courses to judicial staff, judges, and their chief administrators for various court divisions on those topics.

“It’s amazing to travel to the Ukraine and hear some of the complaints about how judges and journalists get along ... that they only write about sensational legal stories, that coverage of flashy trials trump the nuts and bolts of the judicial system, and just as a reporter gets knowledgeable he or she moves on. I think they have about the same success as we do here,” Remondini said.

One of those similarities involves the implementation of a widespread case management system connecting all of the courts, in order to make court records available to the public. In both America and the Ukraine, some local courts have systems while others do not, and court officials in each jurisdiction face many of the same issues in trying to network all of that together, he said. The same corruption issues might not exist here, Remondini said, but having all the courts maintain websites and putting records online creates the access to make people more involved in the judiciary.

As of now, the CMS in the Ukraine is scattered and some of the IT employees are struggling to create web pages for the individual courts, he said. Remondini mentioned one option is to create a Facebook page for the court to provide that access, even though social media penetration in the Ukraine is much lower than it is in this country.

Overall, he said judicial officers there feel like they’re the least powerful branch and are always subject to attacks by the other two branches. They’ve started to realize the courts can use the media to their advantage in reaching a larger audience, he said.

After returning, he submitted a report, which basically completed his role in the project. He isn’t sure how that report will be distributed, but it will likely be used to help determine how successful the project is and whether it will be continued.

Reflecting on his Ukraine visit, Remondini said he’s interested to apply that knowledge and desire for civic involvement back home.

“We take for granted some of the freedoms we have here and the ease of access to courts in comparison to the Ukraine,” he said. “This enables me to think that there’s more we can do to make our courts more responsive to the public.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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