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Kyrgyzstan jurists pay visit to College of Law

April 03, 2008

A group of judges and attorneys from Kyrgyzstan witnessed democracy in action March 25 while observing Arizona’s top court in session at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

The delegation – which made its first visit to the United States courtesy of the Open World Program, a congressional initiative that builds understanding among participating countries’ political and civic leaders and their American counterparts – watched oral arguments before the Arizona Supreme Court in the College’s Great Hall. Via interpreters, the Russian visitors heard lawyers argue before the court. They also got to hear the students in the audience question the justices about a variety of issues.

That the court visits the law school annually and interacts with students was especially impressive to the delegation’s members – a fact they pointed out during an interview with a reporter from the State Press.

“Having this open here in front of the students, that’s a testament to the fact that the court really is public,” said Gulia Kozhokulova, deputy prosecutor of Bishkek City, the Kyrgyz Republic’s capital, and the group’s only woman. “I was quite surprised by their professional integrity – the way they answered questions and students would reply.”

Added Ashyrbek Kurmanov, a judge and chair of the Inter-District Court of the Chuy Region: “Unfortunately, that never happens in Kyrgyzstan. The only way our students get experience is when they go to work for the courts during the summertime.”

Nurbek Toktakunov, a human-rights attorney, said he was surprised the justices were so inquisitive and open-minded.

“I oftentimes come to court and know the judge has already formed an opinion, no matter what I say,” Toktakunov said. “You could see the court here doesn’t have any preconceptions and treated every attorney equally.”

Askat Sydkhov, a judge and head of court in Sverdlov District Court, said he was pleased by the court’s strict adherence to the time allotted for each attorney during oral argument, and that their exchanges were courteous.

“Everything happened as a collegiate dialogue and a healthy adversarial system,” he said.

The jurists, who arrived in Phoenix March 21 for their one-week visit, also met with Arizona Supreme Court chief justice Ruth McGregor and judges from the Arizona Court of Appeals. They also planned to visit the Maricopa County Superior Court and do some sightseeing.

The members of the delegation said they’d been warmly welcomed at every turn.

“We think this is what brings people together, and we find we have more in common,” Kozhokulova said. “We think our people would be as hospitable and warm if you choose to come to our country.”