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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tour of U.S. Judicial System Leads Liberian Chief Justice to New York

July 18, 2008 4:37 PM
Posted by Jonathan Thrope

"One thing I recognized over the past few years is that there are great opportunities for international pro bono. We don't think of that when we first think of pro bono," said Judge George Daniels of the Federal District Court in Manhattan last night at the New York Bar Association. "The problems are so serious; you recognize it doesn't take a lot to make a difference."

Example number one for Daniels would likely be Liberia, which was the topic of discussion last night at a New York Bar reception, as the national "study tour" of Johnnie Lewis, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, neared its finale.
Photo to right: Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, His Honor Johnnie N. Lewis

Lewis spent the previous two weeks traversing the country's judicial system, soaking in whatever lessons he can bring back home. Among other places, he, and four others from Liberia, visited the Supreme Court, the World Bank, and the Federal Judicial Center in Washington D.C..
They sat in on oral arguments in the 7th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in Chicago; observed proceedings in New York’s Criminal Court, and today they visited New York's Supreme Court.
Lewis faces a daunting task back home. "I took over a judiciary in my country which, as a result of Civil War, was not what you would call a judiciary," the soft-spoken judge said. "The entire system was broken down."

The top priority for Lewis--appointed Liberia's top judge in 2006 following 14 years of civil war--has been to rebuild whatever judicial infrastructure remains in his country. At times, Lewis sounded like a part-time contractor, as he described the many renovations planned for or completed on courthouses throughout the country. The biggest lesson he will take back home from this trip is case management, he said. For example, the United States docket system, and how it's organized by number, which doesn't exist back in Liberia.

Lack of legal training is another major problem in Liberia, and it is the reason why a contingent of judges, lawyers and professors, sponsored by Shearman & Sterling and White & Case, and under the auspices of Lawyers Without Borders, visited Liberia last July. They ran a trial advocacy training program for close to 40 Liberian prosecutors, public defenders, and magistrate judges, and soon formed a relationship with Lewis. The relationship in turn led to Lewis' U.S. visit.

The event was as much a call for international pro bono work as it was chance to meet and greet with the Liberian contingent. Even before Lewis had arrived, Daniels had captivated a group of Davis Polk summer associates, extolling the virtues and importance of doing pro bono work outside of the U.S. In addition to teaching judges in Liberia on that July Lawyers without Borders trip, Daniels has also participated in a trial advocacy program in Rwanda.

It was apparent that Lewis, who will return home Saturday, serves as a model for Daniels and others who contribute their legal services abroad. "I think the most important thing that impressed me [about Lewis], and continues to impress me, is the fact that he did not waiver...He became chief justice recognizing realistically what problems there were and how serious the task was," said Daniels in his introduction, "but also approaching that task with a degree of optimism and a degree of confidence."

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