A bridge built with law Jurisprudence: Retired Baltimore Judge Marshall A. Levin sees an 'opportunity for positive communication' in a Reno, Nev., seminar that will include 10 judges from Gaza and the West Bank.

August 04, 1998|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Marshall A. Levin, a longtime Baltimore judge, will travel to Nevada today to lecture Palestinian judges from Gaza and the West Bank about improving ways of dispensing justice in their homeland.

Levin, 77, a retired Baltimore circuit judge who continues to hear cases part time, will take part in a two-week seminar to be attended by 10 Palestinian judges at the National Judicial College in Reno. The Arab judges arrived last week in the United States.

Levin, a member of the college faculty since 1980, will lead a panel discussion on the merits of specialization vs. generalization in the courts.

"This is a first for me; I've never spoken to an Arab judge. The fact that they are Arab and I'm Jewish presents an opportunity for positive communication," Levin said. "In my very, very small way, such bridge-building can be good."

The judicial college in Nevada plays host to scores of judges from around the world -- especially those from emerging countries -- for courses in jurisprudence. A priority at the seminar will be helping the judges from the Middle East plan for establishment of a similar training center for judges in Gaza and the West Bank.

"The Palestinian Authority is in an embryonic state, but their judges are burdened with the same problems all judges are, a big backlog in criminal court," said Levin, who helped integrate Polytechnic Institute in 1952 when he practiced law and, in 1990 as a judge, brought together all pending Maryland asbestos cases into the largest consolidated case in legal history.

"The subject of specialization vs. generalization is a red-hot subject in the law," said Levin, who favors specialized courts for the expertise they offer. "It's something the Palestinians want to know about, and I intend a free-ranging discussion. If there's good faith, there can be solutions."

In the United States, specialized courts deal with issues such as juvenile crime and domestic matters. In Gaza and the West Bank, obvious subjects would be political cases and, because of the Israeli occupation, cases involving land.

The forum will also address ways to bring uniformity to laws in Gaza, which relies on an Egyptian tradition of common law, and the West Bank, whose legal system evolved from Jordanian civil law.

Robert Payant, president of the 35-year-old National Judicial College, visited Palestinian courts in March to prepare for the seminar, which is being funded by the United States Information Agency.

Payant said he witnessed a backlog of about 15,000 cases in Nablus and a lack of simple supplies such as filing cabinets. But the more pressing problem, he said, is the independence of the judiciary, which operates under the rule of Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat.

During Payant's visit in February, Arafat had just asked for and received the resignation of the Palestinian Authority's chief justice. In another case, a law professor was jailed for giving an exam question that criticized Palestinian authority.

"We're going to give them basic training on universal aspects of judging, like ethical standards, good management and the development of a judicial temperament so the courts will be respected," said Payant. "I don't know that the judges there understand that they are servants of the people. That's a problem that is not unique to the Palestinians. Here we call it black-robe fever."

Unless the Palestinians are allowed to develop a true democracy, said Francis Boyle, a University of Illinois international law professor, schooling their judges in the fine points of court management will be academic.

"Their biggest problem is the enormous political pressure to which the entire Palestinian Authority, including the judges, are being subjected by the United States and Israel to crack down on opposition, at times legitimate opposition," said Boyle, who has argued human rights cases on behalf of Palestinians for 30 years and has been a legal adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace negotiations.

"I admit that this is not a perspective you're going to get from most people, but as I see it, the United States and Israel would like to see a dictatorship control the West Bank and Gaza to suppress the basic rights of these people," Boyle said. "They feel it's a lot easier to deal with one strong man than let the Palestinians have genuine democracy."

Pub Date: 8/04/98

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