March 20, Olavarrias, AR.
Writing from the hotel lobby, waiting for a ride to lunch with the team.
Spent the morning at the "Poder Judicial" (courthouse), visiting with two judges and about five lawyers. They find the US system very strange. We have juries (at times), they do not. Our judges in towns of this size are not specialized according to the type of case (civil, commercial, family, criminal) as they are here. We make widespread use of mediation in civil and family cases. They have it only in Buenos Aires, where it is "mandatory." They have continuous involvement by court officials in the progress of a case. There is no such thing as pre-trial discovery outside court supervision. The witnesses appear before court officials and give their testimony, which is summarized by court officials, transcribed into documents for the court file. This is studied by court lawyers who recommend a disposition of the case, which is ultimately decided by t he trial judge. Very seldom is there live testimony before a judge in what we would call a trial.
There are very long delays in the disposition of civil cases. Much longer than in the US. Civil cases drag on for years, 4-10 years is not uncommon, according to the lawyers. It appears to be the same in criminal. (In another city I witnessed the trial of a young man who had committed robbery of some soccer shoes from the owner, including some violent beating. The offense was committed May 5, 2006, almost 3 years ago! The penalty would be handed down within 3 days by the "jusgado" or trial judge. In more serious cases the trial would be before a 3-judge "tribunal.")
There is much dissatisfaction with the justice system, especially in criminal matters. The people express disdain for the police and the courts. I think this would be improved if the judges spoke publicly about their work more often. There is a tradition here that judges do not discuss court procedures publicly, for fear (they say) that the judges will become "contaminated" or influenced by the public. The result is that the people only know about the work of their courts through the newspapers and other media. As usual, there are no stories about hard-working public offials; only inflammatory reports of seemingly outrageous court decisions.
Going now to lunch with the team and club members.