Through planning or happy coincidence, the State Bar of Arizona Convention last week concluded with a focus on the big concepts that drive law and make attorneys and judges worthy of the label “professional.”
If any profession is to tease out and examine the necessary concepts that underlie it, a fine way to do that is to observe the profession under stress. For that reason alone, the remarks of the Iraqi Chief Justice were a superlative end to Convention.
Iraqi Chief Justice Medhat Al-Mahmoud
I wrote before about the visit to Arizona of Chief Justice Medhat Al-Mahmoud. If anything, his insights surpassed attendees’ expectations.
He was introduced by ASU Law School Dean Doug Sylvester, who reminded us that Iraq and its environs are not merely the cradle of civilization; they are the cradle of our legal system.
And then the Chief Justice, his Farsi translated by a dedicated assistant, explained what it was like to have that cradle overturned—and smashed to bits.
When the coalition powers dissolved the Iraqi security agencies, he said, those powers aimed to loosen the grip the agencies had on the people. To an extent, they succeeded. But the rule of law was eliminated, as well.
One of the most concrete examples of that elimination was the destruction of the Ministry of Justice by fire.
“But,” said the Chief Justice, “the judges wanted to go back to the court, sit at their desks and perform their duties.”
“The judiciary realized its role in bringing back the rule of law to Iraq, especially in the capital.”
This realization occurred, of course, when the nation was at war and risk was everywhere. Given that, a courageous focus on the rule of law defies belief.
“We had a willingness to rebuild this house, because we consider it ours as Iraqis; [it is] not the government’s.”
That will to rebuild came in the face of terrible personal sacrifice. The Chief Justice noted that in the process of rebuilding the judiciary, 49 judges were killed, and 132 other employees—prosecutors, public lawyers and others—were assassinated.
On June 12, 2003, the Chief Justice was named the Minister of Justice. His charge was to reestablish the judicial institutions.
That restoration is demonstrated by the numbers: In November 2003, he said, there were 575 judges in Iraq. In 2012, there are 1,328. And his first decision in the rebuilding? Bring back to the court women judges. Their numbers have jumped from 7 in 2003 to 76 today.
What drives an individual to face down danger in order to adhere to an ideal? For the Chief Justice, it comes down to each judge.
“The judge himself must believe in the independence of judges. He must believe in the principle of separation of powers. Without that, he cannot deliver justice.”
The Chief Justice concluded: “Success for justice in Iraq is success for justice all over the world.”
ASU Law School’s Daniel Rothenberg then spoke of the Chief Justice’s willingness to share credit with others. Yes, Rothenberg said, we should admire the “extraordinary quality of patriotism of all Iraqis who put their life on the line” in the pursuit of justice.
But, he added, we also must grasp how important the Chief Justice was to the rebuilding of justice.
Also speaking at the session was Tom Monaghan, a former United States Attorney for the District of Nebraska. His focus that afternoon was on his work from 2003 to 2005 in Kosovo as the U.N.-appointed director of justice.
For those lawyers who are interested in assisting in rule of law initiatives around the globe, panelists suggested they look here.
The day after Convention, I heard from an Arizona lawyer who was beyond pleased at the Chief Justice’s appearance at the event. I’ll end by letting her speak for herself:
“I decided at the last minute to attend the bar convention this year. I drove three hours to Phoenix, mostly to see this man speak, but not knowing what to expect. Well, I was in tears for a good part of his talk—something to do with his passion and sincerity and the beauty of spoken Arabic. But what really enthralled me was the realization that this little guy was a great big hero, because he resurrected the justice system in Iraq. I realized that you can live without electricity, or sanitation, or any of the other necessary amenities of civilized life for a lot longer than you can live without a system of administering justice. These two hours were really all I came for, and it was all I needed. Now I can go back to the practice of law, knowing that it really does make a difference, no matter how much money I make, no matter how tedious and frustrating. Thanks, state bar, for the inspiration. I needed that!”