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Ukrainian lawyers in Indiana

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On their recent visit to Indiana, six delegates from the Ukraine in various legal roles learned how similar and different their legal system is compared to the justice system in the U.S. by visiting and observing it firsthand.

The Open World Leadership Center, part of the Open World program, founded by Congress in 1999, funded the Oct. 18 to 23 visit. The Russian American Rule of Law Consortium, a group of legal communities that seeks to build legal institutions in Russia, Ukraine, and other former Soviet republics by visiting and observing legal institutions in the U.S., administered the visit.
 

legal aid ILAS Executive Director John Floreancig, standing, discusses civil legal aid with delegates from the Ukraine, seated. ILAS office manager Jacqueline Leverenz, back center, and staff attorney Jon Stewart, back right, also participated. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Delegates included Kostyantyn Buzadzhy, director of Ukraine Lawyers Union, Human Rights Consulting Bureau; Serhiy Lastivka, senior expert, Main State Legal Service Department, Ukraine’s Presidential Secretariat; Volodymry Marchenko, private notary, Kharkiv Notary District; Maryna Stefanchuk, chief specialist of Department of Legal Work, Legal Education, State Registration of Normative Acts and Legalization of Non-Governmental Organizations, Supreme Department of Justice of Khmelnitskaya Oblast; Oleh Zrazhevskyy, law consultant; and facilitator Yuliya Semenchenko.

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office hosted the delegates, who stayed with volunteers in their homes for a more in-depth experience of American society and culture. Other than their observations of the legal system, the visit included trips to museums and other cultural events.

Delegates started their visit by observing the investiture ceremony of the newest Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David on Oct. 18. Later that day, they met with Marion Superior Judge Gerald Zore, and also observed criminal proceedings.

On Oct. 19, they met with state senators, and learned about the functions and duties of the Legislative Services Agency Executive Director Jack Ross. They later spoke to students at St. Malachy Middle School in Brownsburg, followed by an overview of the role of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.

On Oct. 20, they observed oral arguments for a juvenile delinquency case at the Indiana Supreme Court. After, they met with Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher and Chief Counsel of Appeals Division Steve Creason to learn more about appellate procedure in Indiana.

Later that day, they met with Indianapolis Legal Aid Society Executive Director John Floreancig, ILAS Board of Directors President F. Ronalds Walker, ILAS staff attorney Jonathan Stewart, and ILAS office manager Jacqueline Leverenz to learn about ILAS and how it compares with other legal aid and pro bono providers in Indianapolis.

Floreancig explained the history of ILAS, created in 1941 and the oldest legal aid provider in the state, and currently the largest legal aid society in the Midwest. He also explained that ILAS serves a total of about 8,000 people every year from Marion and the eight surrounding counties; that it is privately funded; and that the legal issues they handle include family law, which makes up about 80 percent of all of their cases, housing issues, guardianships of children and adults, and some adoption work.

Walker, of counsel at Plews Shadley Racher & Braun, then gave the delegates a pocket-sized book that included the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

The delegates thanked him for the gift as Walker explained that since 9/11 he has carried it in his pocket every day, and has needed to replace his copy – which he keeps in a plastic baggie – every couple years.

He then explained how lawyers provide free legal aid to those who can’t otherwise afford it. This mainly includes ILAS, Indiana Legal Services, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, and private attorneys through the Heartland Pro Bono Council or other pro bono efforts.

He briefly explained how they compare in terms of funding and oversight – ILAS is privately funded and the only oversight is its board, while ILS receives money from and answers to the Legal Services Corporation, which is overseen by Congress.

Even with a number of providers, Walker said, “What we find in this country, which I imagine is the same in the Ukraine, is that there are always more poor people than services to provide to them. There is no end to the number of clients who need help, and I think 8,000 clients per year helped by John and his staff is pretty remarkable.”

Floreancig added ILAS’ staff includes 13 attorneys on the payroll, plus four volunteers with a budget of $800,000.

“The down economy is forcing young lawyers to get experience any way they can,” Floreancig explained. “They’ve been having a hard time getting work in our area, so we’ve been able to benefit from that, unfortunately.”

Following questions of how attorneys are managed, Floreancig explained that ILAS surveys judges in the courts where ILAS attorneys practice and learn whether the attorneys are professional in appearance, if they know their cases, and if they know the law. Walker added that the board oversees Floreancig’s work in the same way a managing partner in a law firm would.

Delegates also asked how ILAS handles grievances from clients. Floreancig replied it would first be handled internally, if possible, but added all lawyers are subject to the Indiana Disciplinary Commission.

Delegates also asked for an explanation of the differences between ILAS’ work and that of public defenders.

Their questions were likely due to the fact that, as the delegates explained, even though there is free legal assistance in the Ukraine for criminal and civil cases, it’s relatively new. Depending on the types of cases, there is funding from private sources and the government, and there is also very little oversight, they added.

The idea of having personal property and personal rights is also a relatively new concept in the formerly Communist country, which presents another challenge to lawyers there, particularly in probate and estate matters, one delegate said.

One of the delegates also said he was disappointed by how the public defenders’ office in the Ukraine compared to what he learned about the U.S. system because “there is no systematic approach to providing legal assistance.” And while the public defenders can get paid, they make a very nominal fee, so low they’d rather take the cases for free.

The free legal aid is also provided by attorneys who work for the government – but the legal aid is in addition to other responsibilities they already have, so they are in effect doing more work for the same pay and not able to give quality legal assistance, another delegate added.

While at ILAS, delegates asked if Floreancig and Walker would help them start a similar organization in the Ukraine.

“We would be happy to help in any way we can,” Floreancig said.

Following their visit with ILAS – which ended with photos in front of a bookcase and delegates saying “cheese” in English and Ukrainian – they met with Deputy Attorney General Abigail Kuzma, chief counsel of the Consumer Protection Division, to discuss her department and her work regarding human trafficking issues in Indiana.

On Oct. 21, the delegates met with leadership at the Indianapolis Bar Association to discuss the IBA’s structure and how it compares with their legal membership associations in the Ukraine. They also spent some time visiting and learning about the Indianapolis Re-entry and Educational Facility, and took a tour of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Arrestee Processing Center.

On Oct. 22, delegates met with staff members of U.S. Senator Richard Lugar and U.S. Representative Steve Buyer. They then learned more about the role of the Office of the Attorney General as legal counsel to the state, appellate duties, and tax law, as well as how the AG handles environmental issues.

Semenchenko, the delegates’ facilitator, said the visit was interesting, and that the delegates were impressed with their interactions with members of the legal community in Indianapolis.

Following their visit to his organization, Floreancig said he was flattered ILAS was included and that he got to be a part of it.

“This is one of the neatest things I’ve ever done here,” he said.•

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