Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Denver lawyers help Haitian counterparts work on justice system

Even before a devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, Haitian attorneys faced a number of challenges: An outdated and inconsistent legal system, high crime rates, widespread corruption.

Today, efforts are underway to help Haiti create a more sound and consistent legal system - something supporters say is critical to any rebuilding or development initiatives.

"You can have the best roads, the nicest cars, the biggest power plants," said Denver attorney T. Markus Funk. "If you don't have a justice system that brings justice to the people, whatever gains you make will be wasted."

Funk, a partner at Denver's Perkins Coie, recently co-authored a handbook for Haitian attorneys with fellow partner Douglas Sawyer and associate Zane Gilmer.

The pro bono project was done in collaboration with the American Bar Association, which has been working with its counterpart in Haiti to implement reforms.

Haiti's current legal system is based on the French Napoleonic system. It is notoriously inefficient, Funk said, with the level of justice varying from judge to judge and city to city.

The system also varies greatly from what is seen in U.S. courts. For example in Haiti, prosecutors assist judges in much the way a law clerk would in the United States. Judges, not lawyers, question witnesses.

The Haiti Trial Skills Handbook is intended to give lawyers some basic, time-tested advocacy skills to assist them as their current system changes. Among the topics covered are pre-trial preparation, such as how to prepare an exhibit list, opening statements and direct examination.

The book is similar to one that Funk authored while serving from 2004 to 2006 as the Department of Justice resident legal adviser for Kosovo, which at the time was in the process of reshaping its justice system. Today, that book is the most cited source in Kosovo law.

Last weekend, the Haiti handbook was used for the first time during a training session in Haiti with Haitian attorneys as well as U.S. judges and attorneys. Another round of training is scheduled in coming months.

Funk is hopeful that just as he saw in Kosovo, a stabilized, more efficient legal system will help foreign companies feel more secure about doing business in Haiti, and provide Haitian people more social stability and democracy.

"It's a nice, tangible way of giving (lawyers) something they can use," he added. "It's very much direct aid."

By Sara Burnett, The Denver Post

Source: The Denver Post

Sara Burnett: 303-954-1661 or sburnett@denverpost.com

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