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Where can you find justice?

HDN | 9/5/2009 12:00:00 AM | GARY LACHMAN

Anyone who thinks a more elevated level of justice can be found in the U.S. than here in Turkey will most likely be in for a big disappointment.

Let me begin by saying that this article should not be construed in any political context. It is merely an attempt by an international lawyer to reconcile some prevailing attitudes about justice in America and Turkey respectively.

Human-rights activists, civil-court plaintiffs and criminal defendants in Turkey are fond of blaming their travails on a corrupt or inefficient court system. They often point to the court system in the United States as a more highly evolved legal venue for the redress of grievances or the meting out of justice. As a business and transactional lawyer who prefers to stay out of court whenever possible, let me say for the record that anyone who thinks a more elevated level of justice can be found in the U.S. than here in Turkey will most likely be in for a big disappointment.

Many Turkish citizens are of the opinion that Turkish judges and prosecutors are cut from the same cloth. I do not believe that is any more or less true than it is anywhere else in the world with a highly developed criminal-justice system. Articles can be found on the Web complaining that Turkish prosecutors have undue influence over judges because they have offices in the same buildings, and because the Justice Ministry sends memos on how to interpret and enforce laws to prosecutorial offices as well as judges.

However, the situation is no different in most of America. Prosecutors and judges in Turkey, America, Germany, Australia, India and throughout the world work for paychecks that originate from the same source: government budgets funded by citizens’ taxes. Why not economize and house their offices in the same location? Physical proximity alone is weak evidence of collusion.

Judges and prosecutors in both countries all receive training courses and must pass exams. The only difference that can be noted is that in the U.S., lawyers must first graduate from an accredited four-year college or university before attending law school for an additional three years. The typical graduate of a U.S. law school is 24 or 25 years old, while the typical new Turkish lawyer is 21 or 22.

Does the added coursework and maturity help the American lawyer? Maybe. Maybe not. I double-majored in Anthropology and Eastern Religion before attending law school, so I can tell you all about the primitive Yanomamo tribe in Brazil, classic Mayan civilization and Kundalini yoga, but I doubt you would be interested if you came to me for advice on a real-estate transaction or a cross-border corporate merger.

In the criminal and civil courts of both the United States and Turkey, corruption no doubt exists. One reason is that in both jurisdictions, public prosecutors and judges make substantially less than many of their colleagues in private practice. If such a disparity of personal income persists, what can people expect? Some individuals will always want more, and if they can’t get it through legitimate means, they will be susceptible to bribery. The answer is to pay the members of the judiciary enough to make them as immune as realistically possible to compromising the integrity of the courts for a little more personal wealth. The same goes for teachers, doctors in government hospitals and policeman. In life, you generally get what you pay for.

Indubitably, there are many in the judicial system of both countries who are above common bribery and corruption. They have a true love of the law and respect for the court and would sooner slit their wrists than subvert the justice system. Unfortunately, at the lower levels of the court system, these altruistic and academic souls are sometimes hard to find. The easiest remedy is higher pay, more rigorous training and examinations and an elected judiciary.

The other main difference between the U.S. system and the Turkish one is that the great majority of judges in America are elected, while all judges in Turkey are appointed. Although these judges are appointed by the High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors, a professional and independent body, charges of undue influence can be found in media reports and other readily available online articles. Although many would say that having to wage a political campaign for office would be unprofessional for a judge, a majority of votes by the electorate certainly would go a long way toward dispelling the belief that any judge or prosecutor is “for sale.” This election method is just business as usual for American chief prosecutors and judges. At least we like to think that having to face periodic elections keeps them a little more honest.

© 2009 Gary S. Lachman

Gary Lachman is an international lawyer formerly with the U.S. Department of State, a real-estate developer and an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University with a consulting practice in Istanbul. He can be contacted at glachman@lachmanyeniaras.com.

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