US Federal Judge Wallace: Bulgaria Will See Amazing Changes in 10 Years

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | Author: Georgi Choranov |June 19, 2009, Friday // 19:40
Bulgaria US Federal Judge Wallace: Bulgaria Will See Amazing Changes in Ten Years: US Federal Judge Wallace: Bulgaria Will See Amazing Changes in 10 Years Judge Wallace(Middle) during his visit to Bulgaria. He is deeply interested in developing strong judicial systems around the world. Photo by the US Embassy in Bulgaria

Interview with the United States Federal Judge, John Clifford Wallace.

Q. What problems do you see with the Bulgarian judicial system?

A. It is fair to say that Bulgarian judicial system has problems, but all our systems do have problems. When I point out problems I have to be fair that they have done some things which I figure quite admirable.

As I see it, one of the major problems is the time it takes to try a case in Bulgaria. The time delay in the trial of cases is unfortunate because when people have disputes and they bring them to court they do not want to wait years to get a determination. The quicker we get them determined, the better we are as a society. That particular method of trying cases is not one that I have not seen before. I have been working on this for nearly four decades and I have seen other countries that have done the same thing. It certainly is not beneficial to do this.

The second is that there has to be some way to remove the burden of the Supreme Court. They have ninety members of the court. They have huge number of filings. Each member of the Court is putting out about 300 decisions a year. Compare that with the US Supreme Court. We have only nine justices, and together they do 75 a year. We expect a lot from these justices.

I was doing some figuring of what would happen if they are not taking any more cases. It would take five years to get rid of the cases they now have. Well, that is not acceptable in my judgment. I see that as the second problem.

The third problem I would say is that we need more training of the attorneys. I think that continuing legal education is very important. It is happening with the judges, and I think it will have a good effect if lawyers continue their training.

Q. What measures do you think the government should take to resolve these problems?

A. My advice would be to start with the trial court and work through the very simple methods of teaching them how to do case management, and court mediation. I think you have one of the finest judicial training programs there is in the institute of justice. They have excellent building. They have good staff. They have good ideas about teaching, and they are certainly qualified to do the type of work which is necessary.

Want would occur is that under the direction of the Supreme Judicial Council they will select I court. Whether it is a district or a regional court will be up to them. And then we will train the judges in that court how to do case management and mediation. Then they will watch that, and see how it work, and adapt it to the Bulgarian judicial system. What it does essentially is, it takes the pace of litigation away from the lawyer, and gives it to the judge. The judge determines, and is in charge of getting that case through as soon as possible. I used this when I was a trial judge. Now it is all used in the US. In every country I have implemented it has worked. So, it is not something that is difficult to do. You have very bright judges here, and there will be no problem.

Lawyers are very flexible. In all the cases we have trained lawyers they have been able to adjust the situation.

Essentially, what it does is the judge takes the case in the beginning. He sets dated upon which things must me completed. There is nothing that dos not have a date that is to me accomplished. They end with the pretrial, in which the facts that are disputed are listed by the parties, the number of witnesses is determined, and the judge determined how long it will take for him to try the case. They set it for a certain date, which both lawyers say is clear on the calendar. They try the law case, and the judge has control.

There is no reason for the great majority of cases to take years. They should only take weeks, instead of years. It can be done through this program.

The other process is mediation. That is something that must me worked out. In most cases, just the judge encouraging them to mediate is sufficient. For those who need mediator, you have to provide mediators. That is what is done in most of your cases. In the US we mediate over 90% of the cases. In Bulgaria, only 30% are being mediated.

That has nothing to do with your Constitution, and laws. Has nothing to do with the quality of the judges, and lawyers. It is just a system that has to be implemented.

If we are able to get both of those going, that problem will be solved in five years. You will see an amazing change in ten years.

The second part was the Supreme Court. I think the government was correct in adopting some way to allow the Supreme Court to decide which cases it will take up.

In most countries they are looking for outside investment to come to raise the standard of living. Until the courts are stable enough, investors are not in a position to invest.

Q. Do you think Supreme Courts in Bulgaria are independent enough?

A. There are ninety members, and I have not met many of them. The ones I have met, I am very impressed with. No only by their obvious education, but also by their interest, and willingness to think about new issues. How quickly they grasp the principles I talk about. If those are the types of judges you have, I think it will be very difficult to be corrupt by political influence.

Whether there is any or not, I would not have any way of knowing. We always worry about it, because, in my judgment, there is probably corruption in all judiciaries. There is in the US. It is not that we have corrupt judiciary. We do not. The rule is that we have people that are very interested in their hones, and are very scrupulous about their job. But you always have one or two that are bad apples. We have them.

What I can tell you is that the new system developed here, with the Supreme Judicial Council, is far better than I have seen it in any other civil jurisdiction. Not only they have separated themselves from the political branches, they have developed their own budget, and they do not have to go through the Ministry of Justice. The budget is of course the power, and they have that under the Supreme Judicial Council which is very good.

There still is some interaction with the Ministry of Justice chairing the Supreme Judicial Council, and eleven members of the council selected by the legislation. If I were designing it, I would have all be judges, prosecutors. But that is adaptable to the particular country, and if Bulgaria has decided to do so, it is fine. I can just tell you that regardless of how it is working, it is working better in my judgment than any straight civil law country.

I think you have got a lot going for you, but I agree with you that there is a necessity to constantly be looking, asking the question "Can we do it better?"

Q. How many countries have you been to?

A. Bulgaria is number 62. I have not only been to those countries, but worked with them. This is far different. You have to find out what they are doing, what their problems are, and help deal with them. And then I have had even more interactions with fare more countries through international conferences. I have been very fortunate to be able to be used in many interesting ways.

Q. Which Eastern European countries have you worked with?

It is surprising that I have done so little in Eastern Europe. Primarily because I go only where I am invited to go. It is not a question of wanting, but a question of who invites you.

In this trip, I have been able to work with Romania and Moldova, and now Bulgaria.

Q. Compared to Romania and Moldova, where do you think Bulgaria is?

A. I found it very interesting there are some unique problems in all three countries. There are some other problems that all three of them have together. I hope that we did some good work while we were here.

Q. Is President Obama administration dealing in the best possible way with the Guantanamo Bay case?

A. Guantanamo was a very difficult time for us. My colleagues in other parts of the world were always concerned why we had not made a decision finalizing Guantanamo. In Our system we do not go to the Supreme Court with any anything. It always has to start in a trial court, through district court, and work its way to the Court of Appeal. Then the Supreme Court decides it is time. Sometimes they decide to get another Court of Appeal, to give a decision, so they can have all the access to them when they make their final decision.

It took us a little longer than many people thought it should, but it is just the way we handle constitutional matters. I think that the Supreme Court decided what they had to decide. They did not tell them to close down the Guantanamo. That was a political decision.

The problem is, of course, what you do with the prisoners. Some of them, probably, will go to some place and be tried, convicted, and go to jail. But some of them they decided to let go.

Now, what do you do with them? Recently, we asked Canada to take eleven people that we are not going to charge. Unfortunately, they turned us down flat. We can send them back to their home country, but most of them would prefer not to go back. The problem is that no one wants to take them. No one wants them living next door.

We could have just left them in the prisons in Afghanistan, which were not nice places. Then we would not have the problem we have now. For reasons best known to the administration, I suppose, they built this prison in Guantanamo Bay and took them all there.

I do not know what Mr. Obama is going to do. In his campaign he said he was going to close Guantanamo. It is up to him. He is the President of the United States. But he still has to solve the problem what to do with the prisoners.


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