November 30, 2009

Ecuadorian Jurists Gain Knowledge About U.S. Legal System

November 2009

The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) hosted a week-long study tour fora 17-judge Ecuadorian delegation. The purpose of the late October visit to Houston, Texas, was to allow the judges to observe multiple components of the U.S. criminal justice system and to support their understanding of, and involvement in, Ecuador’s transition to an accusatorial system. In addition, the trip was designed to foster relationships between U.S. and Ecuadorian legal professionals. The delegation was led by Benjamin Cevallos Solórzano, president of the Council of the Judicature of Ecuador, and organized by Al Amado, ABA ROLI country director in Ecuador, in partnership with Houston-area law schools, courts and the district attorney’s office.

The trip provided extensive exposure to both state and federal courts, and allowed the judges to observe how a typical criminal case is processed. District Court Judge Gray Miller and Magistrate Judge Calvin Botley provided an overview of the U.S. legal system, while the clerk of court spoke on online case management. The judges observed both initial hearings and guilty pleas, along with two major trials in progress. A portion of the week emphasized the appellate process, during which the judges visited the First Court of Appeal and Fourteenth Court of Appeal and witnessed an appellate argument. During these visits, presentations focused on the differing roles of the trial and the appellate courts in the common law system and on the value of precedent in the U.S. system.

District Attorney Patricia Lykos and her staff met with the delegation to discuss the investigation and prosecution of special crimes such as child pornography, financial crimes, consumer frauds and vehicular offenses. Additionally, the judges received instruction on courtroom automation, technological advancements in court administration, and innovative programs to treat offenders, such as diversionary programs for drug offenders. 

Two law schools hosted the Ecuadorian jurists. At the University of Houston Law Center, the delegation took part in a discussion of comparative law and the differing judicial roles in civil law versus common law jurisdictions. Additionally, a special moot court presentation demonstrated how U.S. law students are trained in litigation techniques. At South Texas College of Law, the judges attended a panel on judicial ethics. Speakers included local attorneys, state District Court Judge Josefina Rendón, and two Texas Supreme Court justices, Honorable David Medina and Honorable Eva Guzman, who was recently appointed as the court’s first Hispanic woman. 

Throughout the week, luncheon events featured speakers on a judge’s role as a protector of human rights in Latin America, civil liberties protections afforded under the U.S. Constitution, the applications and implications of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Latin America, and the use of alternative dispute resolution in both civil and criminal proceedings.

In addition to structured visits and presentations, the tour allowed the visiting judges to build relationships with U.S. attorneys and judges during various social events. From a welcome reception and an appellate court luncheon to law school events and a farewell reception, Texas hospitality was in abundance. Several law firms, the State Bar of Texas, the Hispanic National Bar and others honored the jurists. Notable guests at the events included Bob Dunn, a past president of the State of Texas Bar, several ABA state delegates, state and federal judges from throughout Texas. Dr. Carlo Romero, Ecuador’s consul general ad honorem in Houston, attended the farewell reception.

ABA ROLI in Ecuador is planning future study tours, which will allow Ecuadorian prosecutors, federal police and public defenders to connect with their U.S. counterparts. And, the visiting jurists have begun planning for a summer visit by Texas judges to attend a forum on judicial ethics and on proposed reforms to the Ecuadorian judicial ethics code. 

To learn more about the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s work in Ecuador, contact us at <rol@staff.abanet.org>.