Thursday, November 20, 2008
Novosibirsk November 20
Novosibirsk November 20, 2008
Today was worth everything it took to get here. Worth all of the back and forth with NSU regarding timing, course content (actually, they gave me free reign), letter of invitation, visa application, course prep, carving out time in the schedule, traveling so far to a place most people can’t pronounce (much less know where it is), living in accommodations unlike any since I was in college, freezing, slipping on ice, trying to find vegetarian food, trying to exchange money, failing miserably while trying to explain what I wanted to order. Did I forget anything?
Today was worth it because it is the reason we do this: to see the excitement and feel the passion these students exhibit when they are learning and doing something they like. This class was simply amazing. We took 19 students with no training in the law, most of whom didn’t have plans to be lawyers, gave them some tools to try something they had never done before, and watched with joy and pride as these students “tried” a case. It is all on video, you can watch it yourself.
Everyone had prepared his or her assignment with great care. There were some students who were very nervous, but they got up and did it. The student who played the part of the “victim”, I swear, is a natural actress. She knew the facts cold. The students who did the opening did it by the rules: no argument, just facts. The direct examiners asked the “who, what, when, where” with precision. The cross-examiners asked leading questions! Do you know how many times I done trial advocacy teaching, with third year lawyers, and never hear a leading question on cross? The student who played the photographer had drawn excellent depictions of what the photos would have shown, and knew how to explain each part of them. The student who did the closing weaved the law into the facts just like we had talked about. It was truly a wonderful experience to watch these young people as they tried their hardest to convince the jury (there were 11 of them) as to the merits of their positions. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
Once the “trial” was over, I re-read some of the jury instructions just to make sure they applied the law. The jury was allowed to deliberate for fifteen minutes. After twenty minutes, the foreperson came out and asked if the witnesses could come inside to answer a few questions. This not being the real thing, I allowed it. The jury didn’t want the lawyers to hear the questions, but I explained that in a real trial, the lawyers would have to be present. That being said, the jurors asked many questions that the lawyers didn’t ask. I pointed out that in most cases if a lawyer didn’t ask a question, the answer would be unknown (unless the judge allowed juror questions). After we answered their questions, we went back outside. I commented to all of them standing in the hallway that this was the worst part of the trial: waiting for the verdict. I asked one of the defense lawyers how he felt. “Nervous,” he said. Just like a real lawyer.
As we were waiting, one of the students said, “I can’t believe it’s taking them so long. This is a simple case.” I asked her why she felt that way. She said the defendant was clearly guilty. In quick response to that, another student said, “Oh no, he’s clearly not guilty.”
Just then, the foreperson came to the door and let us back in. I asked if the jury had reached a verdict. They said no, it was not unanimous. I had told them previously that it was alright if they came back hung. I then told them that it is not proper to ask anything further, nor to ask jurors about their deliberations. But, since we had already broken a rule, it was okay to break another one. They said it was 10 to 1 for conviction! The holdout was the foreperson. I asked them if they had seen the Russian version of “Twelve Angry Men” (“Twelve” here). They all had, and commented that it was the exact split as in the movie, but here things stayed the same. I told them that the defense comes away with a win, because the defendant is still presumed innocent and not convicted of anything. The jury foreperson then did the “Kirk Gibson” pump with her arm.
We talked for a little while about how hard it is to come to these types of decisions, and what they thought of the jury system. Those who spoke favored it. No one expressed any negative sentiments about the jury system.
It was time to end the class, so I told them I had one more gift for them, and they all got excited again. This time, I gave them FSU lanyards with detachable key rings. No one other than MY students has one, so they could wear it with distinction. I was given gifts as well: a beautiful jewelry box, some literature from the University, and a great t-shirt. Because I don’t have many t-shirts.
My closing comments were from the heart. I have done this three times. This group was the best, the absolute best. Maybe it was because it was such a different type of class for them, and they really jumped into it. But I told them how proud I was of them for even taking the class, because they didn’t have to; it was an optional class. I told them how impressed I was with their enthusiasm, their intellectual curiosity, and their devotion to learning. And I told them that the reason I do this, my reason alone, is to help them learn a little something about America, from an American, and to for me to learn as much as I can about them and their country. In that regard, this trip was an unqualified success. I’m not sure that at this point I can articulate that in any more detail, because this just ended, and I need time for this to sink in. But more than anything, as I told them, we are all on this planet together, and we have to make the effort to know more about the world than what is outside our front door. I told them we have to communicate with each other, for only by doing so can we live peacefully. To that, there was unanimous agreement.
We Senior Lawyers don’t come to preach. We come to teach. We come to learn. We come to see the future leaders of these various countries. It is my firm conviction that this group of young people, nineteen men and women from Novosibirsk, Russia, in Siberia, which most people immediately think of as a cold and barren place, will be leaders in their country. Far from being a desolate wasteland, Siberia, to me, is a dynamic and forward-looking region, and I wouldn’t be surprised to read about one of these wonderful people playing a role in their country’s affairs, and I will get to say: “That was a student of mine.”