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Law Professors Discuss Ethics With Israeli Jurists and Lawyers


Two members of the Law School faculty spent a week of the summer discussing legal issues in Israel with leading Israeli jurists, prosecutors and defense lawyers. Bruce A. Green, Louis Stein Professor of Law, and Russell G. Pearce, professor of law, traveled to Israel with U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner to conduct a day-long seminar on legal ethics and criminal procedure in Jerusalem. The seminar was sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Justice in cooperation with Fordham’s Stein Center for Law and Ethics and was attended by 80 public defenders and prosecutors. As part of their visit, Green and Pearce and Judge Gertner met with two justices of the Israeli Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, the chief justice, and Dorit Beinish, one of the most senior justices.

The American delegation discussed legal ethics and constitutional issues with Barak and spoke to Beinish about cameras in the courtroom, the subject of a commission that she is chairing. They met separately with the presiding judges of the trial courts in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Kryoth; and they also spoke with Israel’s minister of justice and the ministry’s director general, the state attorney, the national public defender and other Israeli public officials and lawyers. “Israel’s Office of the National Public Defender is only five years old,” said Green. “The public defenders are, at one and the same time, public officials and advocates for their clients. Lawyers and judges in Israel are wrestling with fundamental questions about the role of these lawyers, as well as with more typical questions about prosecutors’ and defense lawyers’ ethical responsibilities. This seminar was incredibly valuable, in part because it was the first time prosecutors and defense lawyers sat down together in an educational setting to discuss these issues.”

Of the 450 prosecutors who applied to participate, 50 were chosen to join the 30 public defenders in discussions. Participants debated what kind of disclosures defense lawyers and prosecutors should make to each other and to the court, how to handle witness perjury, and when it is appropriate to speak to the media. “There were some very heated discussions and many disagreements, but not always between prosecutors on one side and defenders on the other side,” Green said. “There was a wide range of opinions on both sides.” The seminar offered Israeli lawyers an opportunity to learn more about how the U.S. system works and to gain a better understanding of how attorneys in the United States deal with legal ethics questions. From Green and Pearce’s perspective, the seminar also broadened their personal understanding of the U.S. and Israeli legal systems.

“Working in a country such as Israel that has a sophisticated legal profession teaches us a great deal about our system,” said Pearce. “It became clear to us that the ethics issues for prosecutors and defense lawyers were tied to how you conceive the whole operation of the criminal justice system, including the responsibility of the judges. This enabled us to better see the advantages and disadvantages of the American system.” For example, in the United States defense lawyers are expected largely to conduct their own investigations into the case, whereas in Israel, defense lawyers receive the prosecutor’s file but may not themselves speak with prosecution witnesses.

“Both systems have advantages and disadvantages,” said Green. “I think our defense lawyers are often overburdened and don’t investigate as vigorously as the system expects them to. It’s all a matter of perspective. By spending time discussing the differences between the two legal systems we are able to step back and think about things we sometimes take for granted in our own system.” Israeli participants agreed on the value of the program. In a letter to Green and Pearce, Max Mamou, who heads the training institute of the Ministry of Justice, said: “At this stage in the development of our laws and public institutions, it was extremely useful for us to gain the American legal perspective on the ethical issues that our prosecutors and defenders face.

The seminar gave us just what we were hoping for [and was]an important occasion for an exchange of views among our lawyers and we are grateful to you and the Stein Center for facilitating it.” Pearce and Green hope that the seminar was the first step in a long relationship between the Stein Center and the Ministry of Justice. The Stein Center is currently searching for funds to continue the program next year.


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