Second Judicial Delegation from Republic of Georgia visits Cobb County

By Mike Cuccaro

In October, Cobb County Superior Court and the State of Georgia hosted a second judicial delegation from the Republic of Georgia (GE).  Once again, the focus was on jury trials and jury management practices.  The delegation followed a felony jury trial from voir dire to verdict in the courtroom of Judge Ann Harris.   The delegation had many questions about trial process and tactics, the same sorts of things that would interest a judge in the United States.  “For as much as they may feel they are behind the eight ball in being able to implement a robust jury system, at the end of the day they walk around in the same shoes that US judges do,” said Judge Harris.

Cobb Judges meeting with Republic of Georgia JudgesOf particular interest to the GE delegation were aspects of the jury selection process and how our courts treat jurors.  Just this year the Republic of Georgia has expanded use of juries in serious criminal cases, after a provisional period that saw a handful of jury trials in the Republic's most populous cities.  Several aspects of the trial they viewed caught the attention of the Georgian judges.  They were complimentary about how Judge Harris' preliminary instructions seemed to help reduce reluctance among the potential jurors to perform jury service.  One difference from Georgian voir dire is that the prosecution and defense both avoided repetitive questioning and argument with jurors about their views, which our U.S. judges witnessed firsthand in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capitol city.  They also found the methods of challenging for cause and "silent" peremptory strikes to be managed efficiently, thanks to the professionalism of the attorneys acting at the direction of the court.   Another aspect of trial commented on by the Georgian judges is the amount of respect shown to the jury by all court officers, for instance, standing when the jury comes in and out of the courtroom and how solicitous the court was of the jurors’ needs during jury service.  Fittingly, as part of his closing argument the defense attorney spoke to the jury of its vital role in justice and our democracy.

The visit was not spent entirely in a courtroom however.  Tom Charron and other Cobb County court staff met with the Georgians to discuss jury management that goes on behind the scenes.  One member of the delegation, a jury administrator, met with Judge Robert McBurney, Fulton County Court Administrator Yolanda Lewis and Jury Clerk Marlon Greathouse to discuss the nuts and bolts of managing and accommodating jurors in the United States.  Fulton County has recently upgraded its juror assembly room with attention to comfort and accommodating special needs. 

While court processes were the main focus, the Georgian team also was introduced to our legal culture.  The delegation attended a Cobb County Bar Association luncheon where they were introduced by Senior Judge Jim Bodiford and Department of Justice attorney Mike Grant explained the program is funded through foreign assistance administered by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), and through partnership with the Judicial Council of Georgia’s Administrative Office of the Courts, and assisted by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training.  Later in the week the delegation met with judges and other officials in the Seventh Judicial Administrative District at a traditional barbecue event.

Recently Judge Bodiford received a note from GE Court of Appeals Judge Levan Tevzadze, member of the Republic’s High Council of Justice, who wrote in part:  “We take our observations back to Georgia with the goal of using your best practices to improve our nascent jury trial system.  Throughout the visit we felt your dedication to make our visit a truly memorable one, and you far exceeded the goal. . . . I hope we will continue to work together to improve the Georgian Judiciary.”  It is clear that our own judges share Judge Tevzadze's enthusiasm for this joint project, as Judge Harris explains:  "In all of our interactions the thing I walk away with is the incredibly broad shoulders we are privileged to stand on – not just the founding fathers, but 230 years of judges and justices who have developed such a broad body of law and practical application that gives life to our Constitution.”  What better way to honor our tradition than to share it with our friends in the Republic of Georgia.

 

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