Our Global Justice Program’s goal for our work in the developing world has been, is, and always will be to educate, equip, and empower our friends to create, implement, and sustain the needed reforms to their justice system themselves. In a very real sense, we seek to become superfluous.
Measurable progress rarely comes easily or quickly. But when it comes, there is little that is more gratifying.
Within the past week, I received three separate confirmations that brought profound satisfaction. The first was in an e-mail to my wife from a prosecutor with whom we worked in the Mbarara and Bushenyi prisons – more on that in my prior post. She informed Joline that the day after we left, the prosecution and defense returned to the prison and continued working together to reach plea agreements for prisoners who were interested in resolving the charges against them.
A couple days later, the warden of one of the prisons e-mailed me to offer some kind words of gratitude and to tell me that (i) our work had given the prisoners confidence that the new plea bargaining system could be trusted, (ii) a flood of additional prisoners had registered to participate, and (iii) the lawyers had returned to move these cases forward.
The third piece of good news requires a brief explanation. Due to high demand and administrative ease, our Global Justice Program has always been limited to Pepperdine law students. Earlier this year, however, we re-evaluated this limitation after conversations with Baylor University about the possibility of helping their law school start a similar program in a nearby African country. Consequently, we accepted a stellar Baylor law student (Megan Pepper) into our program this summer, and she was stationed about four hours from the capital city. (She, and Baylor Law Professor Brian Serr, joined our team on the prison project). So, just a couple days ago, I learned from Megan that, in the wake of the National Plea Bargaining Conference (described below), the justice for whom she worked in Mbale just completed a large group of plea bargained cases this week.
Confidence is growing and implementation is scaling up in my beloved adopted country, and I could not be more proud of my Ugandan friends and colleagues.
What follows is a relatively quick overview of our third week in Uganda, which revolved around two national conferences.
After a Saturday evening BBQ (the goat in Uganda is to die for (sorry Shelby)), we left for Kampala on Sunday morning, but not without two important stops.
The first was nominally to drop Henry off back at his medical school so he could complete his final week of exams after joining us for the weekend. The bigger purpose for this stop, however, was for us to meet his NEW GIRLFRIEND!
Lillian is from Kampala and is in her third year of nursing school, also at KIU with Henry. We mobbed her with hugs and questions before returning to our buses and cars to continue back to Kampala.
Our second stop was at the Mbarara Prison where we had spent the prior Wednesday and Thursday. After presenting the prisoners in Bushenyi with a cow and three goats to eat, we thought it only fair to do the same for these prisoners. They were immensely grateful, but, unlike those in Bushenyi, they didn’t insist that we initiate the butchering process ourselves.
Eight hours later, we arrived back in Kampala. Joline, Aaron, Austin, Brian, Jon, and Avery took quick showers and then headed to the airport to return home, as Mike, Brad, Darren, Jenna, and I began preparing for Tuesday’s national plea bargaining conference we were co-hosting with IJM. We spent Monday finalizing the conference program (incorporating what we had observed the prior week about challenges Uganda still faced in plea bargaining) and meeting with Ugandan prosecutors to help them better understand the plea bargaining process.
As is unavoidable in Uganda, the conference started nearly an hour late on Tuesday with numerous speeches, including by the Deputy Chief Justice and by me. I kicked off the substantive part of the conference with an interactive fifteen-question quiz on their own rules, and then we moved into two sessions on special issues encountered in plea bargaining. IJM’s Gulu Field Office Director Will Lathrop led a session on land grabbing (huge problem in Uganda), and Los Angeles Public Defender Brad Siegel led a session on juvenile justice.
The highlight of last year’s first national plea bargaining conference had been a re-enactment of the plea bargaining process, so we spent about ninety minutes doing a similar presentation this year. Kirkland & Ellis associate Darren Gardner played the juvenile defendant, who was accused of engaging in land grabbing with the aid of a panga (machete). Brad Siegel played his lawyer, while Will Lathrop played the prosecutor. Utah Judge Mike DiReda donned the Ugandan wig and technicolor robe to play the judge. Pepperdine Law student (and theater major in college) Jenna King played the aggrieved victim. Over the course of six scenes, which I narrated, we walked the Ugandans through the first client meeting up through sentencing. Once again, this was the highlight of the conference.
After lunch, we divided the hundred-plus attendees into groups of four – one defendant, one defense lawyer, one prosecutor, and one judge in each group. We provided all four with a one page list of the allegations, and gave the defendant an additional page of facts. We then dismissed the defendant (played by prison officials) and the defense lawyer for an initial interview to see how much of the additional facts the defense lawyer could elicit through questioning of the defendants – a huge challenge in Uganda is the lack of personal engagement and investment in the criminal justice system by the defense lawyer, so we were doing our best to help reprogram this shortcoming.
While the defendant and defense lawyer were meeting at separate tables in the ballroom, Judge DiReda took the judges and prosecutors through his typical process of taking pleas in the wake of completed plea agreements, helping them streamline the process – some of the judges had been taking nearly an hour with each plea bargained case, rather than the five-ten minutes that is actually necessary. During this session, we singled out for special recognition, Justice Batema, who had, over the course of three days, taken nearly one hundred pleas in cases we had completed the prior week. A national newspaper in attendance ran a story about him and our work the following day.
A little while later, we dismissed the prosecutors to their respective groups to see if they could negotiate a deal, and then subsequently sent the judges to the groups to take the plea. We closed the conference with a lengthy discussion about how this process went (quite well) and to answer whatever questions arose. As is customary in Uganda, we held an awards ceremony at the end during which each participant received a certificate memorializing the eight hours of training received at the conference. We also surprised the Principal Judge, Dr. Yorokamu Bamwine, by naming him Pepperdine Global Justice Program’s Person of the Year for his vision and leadership in implementing plea bargaining. We presented him with a beautifully engraved crystal plaque to commemorate the process.
That night, Mike, Brad, and Darren flew home. (After Mike returned home, a large Utah newspaper ran a nice story about his involvement in our program). The following morning, we kicked off the final aspect of our three-week trip.
Two years ago, we brought a contingent of Ugandan judges to Pasadena to meet with judges at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. During that visit, the Ugandans were introduced to a new concept called appellate mediation. This process uses mediators to try to assist the party appealing an adverse verdict to reach an out-of-court settlement with the prevailing party in the trial court, rendering moot the pending appeal. This doesn’t work for all cases (not applicable in the criminal realm), but it is effective at reducing the number of cases that go for a hearing before the court of appeals. This visit intrigued the Ugandans, and Justice Kiryabwire (very involved in the Pepperdine/Uganda relationship) commissioned two of our interns to write a feasibility study. The following year, Ninth Circuit Judge Clifford Wallace and Ninth Circuit Mediator Claudia Bernard traveled to Uganda separately and prepared recommendation reports.
This all culminated in a two-day training session hosted by Pepperdine and led by Ninth Circuit Mediator Peter Sherwood. The vast majority of the Ugandan Supreme Court and Court of Appeals attended the training program, as did numerous court officials and a few private lawyers. After two days of theorizing and role playing, the room was unanimous – Uganda was going to take a shot at reducing the huge backlog in appellate cases, which has resulted in a five to six year delay between filing the appeal and receiving a ruling.
I had experienced that myself in Henry’s case – we filed the appeal in the summer of 2010 and received a ruling in the summer of 2015.
Even as I write this post, the Ugandan Court of Appeals, under the leadership of Justice K, is in the midst of a pilot appellate mediation program!
One final note – I received word from Henry today that he passed all three portions of his final exams – written, practical, and oral. Of the 500 who started the program two years ago, only 175 remain. In September, Henry begins his third year, which will allow him to start interacting with actual patients.