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With N.C.'s help, Moldova's legal system is in the making.

Byline: Bill Cresenzo

A delegation from Moldova, a developing nation on the easternmost edge of Europe, just traveled to North Carolina to learn about the state's judicial system.

And North Carolina attorneys and judges learned from them, too.

The trip was part of the Open World Program. In October 2015, then-Gov. Pat McCrory and Moldova's former Prime Minister, Valeriu Strelet, renewed a memorandum of principles and procedures regarding an agreement that was originally signed between the state and the country in the 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Moldova, a landlocked country sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, gained its independence, and NATO created the Partnership for Peace program, pairing states with new countries, and North Carolina has been a leader in helping it fulfill its potential. (The partnership was originally with the U.S. National Guard, and a civilian aspect was added in 1999.)

Sponsored by 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Allyson Duncan and the Open World Leadership Center in Raleigh, the visit took place in late October. The goal was to strengthen relations between the state and Moldova and give the visiting attorneys a good look about how the U.S. judicial system works.

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall hosted an informational session for the group, giving an overview about the duties of her office, along with a lesson on state government Marshall is very involved with the partnership, with her office playing an integral role in coordinating visits from and providing guidance for Moldova citizens since 1999.

"They are attempting to improve their judiciary," Marshall said.

She made it clear to the group that it was up to them to take any advice they needed or didn't--what works for the U.S. might not work for Moldova. And, she said, that's just fine.

The judiciary system in Moldova is vastly different from that in the United States, said Petru Balan, one of the six lawyers from Moldova who toured Raleigh, the state Washington. And, at least by U.S, standards, it is rather convoluted.

"Moldova is a part of the continental law system, and is small and unitary--meaning, not a federal state," Balan said. "The courts apply the provisions of law, not the judicial precedents. The precedents formally are not mandatory for the courts, but, in fact, the courts avoid rendering different decisions in the similar cases."

Long-distance education

Matt Leerberg, a lawyer with the firm of Fox Rothschild in Raleigh, met the delegation, along with Superior Court Judge Bill Pittman.

"What I found the most fascinating was that in our system, we do a lot of on-the-job training," he said. "You go to law school and take the bar, but you really don't learn to to be a lawyer until you are practicing. The same is true for judges. They can get elected without having any experience as a judge.

"In Moldova, becoming a judge is a multi-year process. Their candidates for judge have to undergo an enormous amount of training. They sit through mock trials, where their performance as a judge is judged by others, and only the cream of the crop are eligible to be appointed. I don't know if one is better than the other, but that's a major difference."

The Moldovan delegation also met with other attorneys, judges and law professors from Duke University. During a visit to the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, they, like Leerberg, learned about the differences in the training of judges in the United States.

"We noted that the American system of the continuous training for judges is mostly based on the distant learning and online courses," Balan said. "We caught some new ideas from our American colleagues, and we hope to implement them in Moldova--interactive online courses, and the use of the video materials in training activity. At the North Carolina Bar Association, we caught some new ideas concerning legal education, and how to provide CLE to lawyers."

Marshall and her chief deputy, Rodney Maddox, have each been to Moldova 10 times.

"I have learned that people are very, very similar all around the world, no matter what their situation," Marshall said. "I am very fortunate to have been born in America where we have democracy and freedom."

Trips offer new perspective

Moldova is a money-poor country, and Maddox said his trips there have made him less wasteful, particularly on money he spends on entertainment.

He noted that one of original requirements of the Partnership for Peace agreement was that civilians, and not the military, would rule. The partnership affords an opportunity "to study a culture that is transitioning out of what was a communist economic model into the market economy," Maddox said.

"It's helpful to be able to see what other people are going through, in order to understand the effects of what is going on here," he said.

One other noticeable difference between the legal systems in the two countries is that judges in Moldova are more specialized. There are judges who specialize in criminal cases, ones who specialize in civil cases, and ones who are experts in bankruptcy cases, Balan said. The county's Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Justice also have specialized panels of judges for criminal or civil cases.

And unlike judges in the U.S., those in Moldova can't void the laws and the statutes the government issues--that job falls to the Constitutional Court.

"We had interesting meetings and captivating discussions," Balan said. "We were pleased to assist at a constitutional lesson at the Duke University and to assist in the court hearings in the United States District Court and Bankruptcy Court."

Follow Bill Cresenzo on Twitter @bcresenzonclw

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Author:Cresenzo, Bill
Publication:North Carolina Lawyers Weekly
Date:Nov 1, 2018
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