Czech/Slovak Legal Institute Offers Insights on America’s Justice System

John Marshall Law School faculty welcomed 23 Czech and Slovak attorneys for a summer reunion. The group met with judges and attorneys working in circuit, state and federal courts.

The John Marshall Law School Czech/Slovak Legal Institute hosted 23 Czech and Slovak attorneys for a summer reunion June 27 through July 3.

Each December for the past 10 years, attorneys from Chicago travel to the Czech Republic to teach a short course on American law. This course is offered through the cooperation of the Czech and Slovak Bar Associations. This year Professor Michael Seng, director of the institute, invited the alumni of the program to come to Chicago to experience first-hand the American legal system.

During their visit, the Czech and Slovak attorneys visited the Circuit Court of Cook County’s First Municipal District as guests of Judge Joyce Gorman, and the Chancery Division as guests of Judge Rita Novak.

At The Honorable George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building, the group met with Chief Judge Paul Biebel, Judge Evelyn Clay and Cook County Public Defender Marijane Placek. The attorneys also visited Cook County Jail with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and jail superintendent Robert Lyles.

“The Czech and Slovak attorneys face many of the problems that we have faced in the United States,” said Seng. “Delay in the courts is a significant problem, and attorneys worry about judicial corruption and impartiality.”

The group learned the art of mediating disputes from a distinguished panel of former Circuit Court of Cook County Judges Arthur Janura and Clifford Meacham, with Professor Emeritus Leonard Schrager and attorney Mary Pat Benz.

Panelists who outlined mediation and arbitration for the Czech attorney delegation included (from left) retired Circuit Court of Cook County Judges Clifford Meacham (ret.), an arbitrator, and Arthur Janura, a mediator and settlement judge; John Marshall Law School Professor Emeritus Leonard Schrager who serves on the board of the Center for Conflict Resolution; and Mary Pat Benz, a court certified mediator in the Circuit Court of Cook County Law and Chancery Divisions.

“Although arbitration was used under the Communists, mediation as a form of dispute resolution is only now being introduced and the attorneys are very interested in how it can be used effectively,” Seng said.

A visit to the United States District Courthouse included discussions with Chief Judge James Holderman and Judge Virginia Kendall of the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois and Federal Defender Carol Brook.

Alumnus John Smietanka (JD ’68) welcomed the delegation to Michigan for a Fourth of July celebration. Smietanka, the former Michigan Attorney General and United States Attorney for Western Michigan, also arranged for visits to state and federal courts and the FBI Offices in Michigan.

“Throughout their visit the Czech and Slovak attorneys were able to discuss a variety of issues with their American counterparts and they left with many fresh ideas on how to manage a complex legal system,” Seng noted. “At the end of their visit, they urged us to repeat the program in the future.”

American lawyers and judges have a similar opportunity to see the Czech legal system in action when The John Marshall Law School Czech/Slovak Legal Institute conducts its 20th annual study tour to the Czech Republic in October.

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