Foreign judiciary visits Jacksonville, Federal Court

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  • | 12:00 p.m. October 5, 2009
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by Joe Wilhelm Jr.

Staff Writer

“Breakfast with Harv,” also known as the Federal Bar Association’s New Lawyers Breakfast, had a special twist this year.

Attendees were given an education on the judicial system of the Republic of Tatarstan by judges from the country.

The nickname was given to the breakfast program because Senior U.S. District Court Judge Harvey Schlesinger was one of the first hosts last year and his former law clerk – and now Federal Bar Association, Jacksonville Chapter, Vice President-Programs Michael Fackler – was one of the founders of the event. Schlesinger has also been involved with the “Open World” program created by the U.S. Congress in 1999, which helped bring foreign visitors to Jacksonville.

“They wanted to bring people over in November when the program first started out,” said Schlesinger. “So Florida was an obvious choice of the program and its participants.”

The latest group was the fourth hosted by Schlesinger through the program. The group from the Republic of Tatarstan was comprised of judges from different levels of their court system and included: Regional Supreme Court Judges Pavel Kondratyev, criminal court judge; Rezida Saitgarayeva, civil judge; Vakhitovsky Municipal District Court Judge Yevgeniya Zybunova, a civil and administrative judge; Bavlinsky City Court Judge Marsel Fakhriyev, a federal judge; and Sovetsky Municipal District Court Judge Gaziz Gismetidnov, civil and administrative judge. They are the third group from Tatarstan to visit Jacksonville.

“They are interested in our system of government because elections and open media are foreign concepts to them,” said Schlesinger. “They also like to come to Florida to see the alligators and to go swimming at the beach.”

The visitors had a full schedule of activities through the “Open World” program, both educational and entertaining, which was hard to keep up with the first couple days due to jet lag, said Fakhriyev through an interpreter.

“We have been here one week since we first landed on U.S. soil and I must admit that after we landed in Washington, D.C., we were fighting the sleep,” said Fakhriyev. “But by now we have gotten over the jet lag and gotten used to American food.”

All of the visitors are sitting judges, so their schedules don’t allow for an extended stay. The program brings its participants to the U.S. for 10 days, and the trip begins with orientations in both Moscow and Washington, D.C., where they received a thorough overview of U.S. political and social institutions. After the completion of orientation, the group travels to another U.S. community to get a glimpse of local and state government and civic institutions.

The judges visited the Duval County Courthouse Tuesday and Schlesinger made a point that might have U.S. judges considering a change of venue.

“In (the Republic of Tatarstan) judges are actually paid better than lawyers,” said Schlesinger.

Attendees of the breakfast numbered about 30 and Zybunova supplied more information on judges in her country. Requirements to take the exam to become a judge include: a law school degree, five years experience in the practice of law and having reached 25 years of age. Prior to 2009, judges were subject to a three-year probationary period, but a recent change in legislation has judges appointed for life from the start of their term. There is an age limit of 70, but judges can opt for senior status at that time.

The next guests of the Federal Bar Association, Jacksonville Chapter, will be U.S. Magistrate Judge Monte Richardson and Chief Probation Officer for the Middle District of Florida Elaine Terenzi. The association will host the guests at a luncheon at the Omni Hotel Oct. 14.

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