The Practice – Visiting Mongolian judges studying state’s justice system

Tim Wyatt / The Dallas Morning News

A well-known love of barbecue apparently isn’t the only thing Mongolians and Texans have in common.

Next week, five Mongolian judges will head back to the plains of northern Asia with some fresh ideas from Texas on how to reform a judicial system that was modeled after the one in the former Soviet Union.

The judges, including three of Mongolia’s six Supreme Court justices, are going through a 10-day crash course that includes watching court proceedings and talking with judges in Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth.

The program is sponsored by the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law.

Judge Joe Spurlock, a law professor and director of Texas Wesleyan’s Asian Judicial Institute, designed the program after making contact with Mongolian officials through Matthew Toback, a school alumnus and Dallas attorney who also is an unpaid general counsel for the Mongolian government.

On Tuesday, the Mongolians sat in on jury selection in Dallas’ domestic-violence court and talked with judges and prosecutors.

The nation of 2.5 million people underwent changes shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and democratic elections followed a student uprising in 1992.

Mongolia’s communist government gave way to a democratic republic, with a new constitution and the promise of expanded civil liberties.

Judge Spurlock, who works as a visiting judge in North Texas courts, said the Mongolians hope to adopt a system with increased judicial independence.

A tour of Mongolia’s courts in May convinced Judge Spurlock that the judges needed to see the Texas system in action if they were to implement suggested reforms.

“Now, it’s perfectly OK to say you want to reform the system, but to put it into practice is a hard thing to do,” Judge Spurlock said. “They liked the Texas justice system, so now they’re here watching it in practice.”

Judge Spurlock said most of the 300-member Mongolian judiciary will take part in observing the Texas system over the next several years. The first five judges arrived in Fort Worth last week, and they observed proceedings of the Texas Supreme Court in Austin on Monday.

Among other changes, the Mongolians hope to take some power away from prosecutors. The country has no rule against trying defendants twice for the same crime and no grand-jury system to check wanton prosecution of crimes, Judge Spurlock said.

Mr. Toback added that the Mongolian Supreme Court lacks the authority to reverse or strike down laws.

Mongolian Supreme Court Justice Ganzorig Gombosuren said his country’s judiciary is the last governmental branch to implement democratic checks and balances that many nations take for granted.

“The courts here are equal to the other branches of government, which has not been the case in our country,” Justice Gombosuren said. “And through that power, the courts can protect the constitution and human rights.”

Mr. Toback said: “They’ve taken care of their executive- and legislative-branch reforms, but the judiciary is the pin that holds everything together. They’re very impressed with our state Legislature and the Supreme Court.”

The Mongolians already have found that their judicial system faces some of the same problems as the American system. While talking with Judge David Finn, who presides over the Dallas County domestic-violence court, Justice Gombosuren said domestic violence is becoming more prevalent in his country’s big cities.

“That’s not so different from here,” Judge Finn said.

Staff writer Esther Wu contributed to this report.

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