Thousands of free people gathered in front of the country of Georgia’s parliament in the capitol city of Tbilisi this past week to protest two new general laws the ruling political power, The Dream Party, wanted to impose on Georgia’s citizens. Although it has been denied by Russia, both bills were inspired by Russia’s draconian statutes that suppress dissent and oppress would-be dissenters in Russia. The Russian Duma and President Putin have managed to enact a series of laws that would make Joseph Goebbels envious and George Orwell prophetic.
Georgia’s reactionary, pro-Russian, anti-Western ruling party thought to run roughshod over freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of the Georgian citizens to peacefully assemble and ask their government to address their grievances. In the case of these two new laws, the attempt by The Dream Party was to prevent foreign support for Georgian democracy and to punish by fines of up to 25,000 Georgian lari ($9,600 U.S. dollars) or even up to 5 years imprisonment, anyone who accepted foreign support of over 20% of their budget for pro-Western/anti-Russian activities and thoughts. These two statutes would have designated such support as coming from “foreign agents”, say America for example. In fact, since Peg and I were paid and dispatched to Georgia by the American Bar Association, the United States Agency for International Development and the East-West Management Institute, those two Alice in Wonderland epistemological abominations might well have resulted in our appearance in the very courts we were sent to help.
Most of Georgia’s northern border is bounded by Russia. In 2008 Russia simply drove its army into Georgia without need for much military activity and took over 20% of Georgia’s sovereign territory that it still occupies. Russia exerts great influence over much of Georgia, but a majority of Georgians see themselves as being entitled to a free and democratic country that looks to Europe and the West for its future. Russia and Georgia’s governmental majority Dream Party demur from this position.
When Peg and I were sent to Georgia beginning in June 2022 and permanently leaving 25 February 2023, we were instructed to work with several of Georgia’s judges, court staffs, attorneys, law students and university pupils with the main goal of helping to enhance judicial independence and citizen access to the justice system. We were impressed with the desire of the Georgian people for freedom and democracy and especially the goodwill we experienced as representative Americans. We made many wonderful friends and greatly enjoyed the people.
In general, Georgians like and respect America and most of them are oriented toward the West and evince western values of justice and democracy. Peg and I were reminded of our halcyon days on our college campuses and our own protests against the Viet Nam War and for the Women’s Movement and the anti-discrimination movement to help Black people. I already had my honorable discharge when I returned to campus and Peg was not subject to the draft. However, we both engaged in First Amendment activities without regard to other possible repercussions, such as cutting class.
Much of my motivation came from growing up during days of Black/white segregation and losing one of my childhood friends to combat in Viet Nam. Peg was and is, of course, a member of that class of persons most affected by gender discrimination. Those are some of the reasons we respect what the people of Georgia are standing up for. They have much to lose personally but they do not want to lose their beautiful country. Therefore, they are making the hard sacrifices and standing up for their own rights and those of all their fellow citizens. And as President Theodore Roosevelt said, “The Glory Belongs to the Ones in the Arena.” We say to our Georgian patriots, if it were easy, it would not mean much. But, since there is much to dare, we say, as did World War II General “Vinegar” Joe Stillwell, in faux Latin, “Illegitimi non carborundum!” Be bold, it’s worth it!
Peg and I got back to “The Osage”, Osage County, Oklahoma, USA on 26 February 2023 after a trip of two days from the one-time Soviet Union Republic of Georgia that is bordered by Russia and Turkey and lies directly across the Black Sea from Ukraine, that, also, was a former member of the Soviet Union. Georgia has a population of about four million, almost every one of whom we met yearned to come to the USA and every one of whom was insatiably curious about, “What makes America, America.” The Georgian judges we worked with from June 2022 to April 2023 unfailingly asked me “How do American judges do …?”
I was sent to Georgia by the United States Agency for International Development, the American Bar Association and the East-West Management Institute because I have been on the faculty of the National Judicial College (NJC) since 1995 teaching other judges from the United States and several foreign countries. I have designed and taught courses on judging to judges, lawyers and court administrators from Palestine (1996), in Ukraine (1999-2000), in Russia (2003) and in Georgia (2022-2023) as well as judges from other countries when they attend courses at the NJC.
My unsurprising conclusion from ten years of practicing law and forty-three years of judging is lawyers and judges and the citizens who must look to us for justice are pretty much the same everywhere. Most people are good most of the time, most people are bad some of the time and everyone everywhere wants to know why the USA is a beacon to the world. That is what I have been asked to report on during a series of debriefings concerning our mission to Georgia.
In other words, even we Americans spend a great deal of time cogitating on what makes American judges different from foreign judges. I have certainly invested a lot of years in this quest and today during a Zoom meeting with experts from Georgia and America I plan to offer my analysis. For such a complex and important subject my thoughts synthesize to a rather pedestrian mantra:
With all the judiciaries from other countries it has been my pleasure and privilege to know and work with, my perception is they believe that unless there is a specific, written law that authorizes them to take a particular action, even if they know it is the right and just thing to do, they cannot ethically and legally do so and, therefore, they refuse to act.
Whereas judges from the United States believe that unless there is a specific, written law that prohibits the judge from taking a bold, just and fair action in a case, the judge will take the action even if there is no law that specifically allows it.
This mantra is deep within America’s judicial psyche. Some, when they disagree with a judge’s imaginative decision, might criticize it as “judicial activism”. Of course, when they agree with the decision, they call it “wisdom”. But if one wants to define the bright-line difference in what other countries yearn for and what America’s judges are admired for it is just this, Judicial Independence!
This general philosophy falls within what that great American dreamer Robert Kennedy called his mantra:
“Some people see things as they are and ask, Why? I see things as they should be and ask, Why not?”
So, after 8 months of responding to my Georgian friends’ incessant curiosity of what makes America and its legal system the hope of many other countries, I point out it is not for nothing the most recognized symbol of America is The Statue of LIBERTY (that is, the freedom to do the right thing)!
Peg and I will leave Batumi, Georgia this Saturday, 25 February 2023. We will fly through Istanbul, Turkey then on to Chicago and Tulsa where our good friends Doug and Marcia Givens will pick us up at the airport; thank you, old friends!
Doug and I have been friends since the first grade at Franklin Elementary School in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. For some reason neither of us could ever recall, Doug and I fought every day after school at the same location on our mutual routes home during first grade. As we both always wore a white T-shirt every day, we went through several shirts apiece until the good sense of our mothers intervened and peace was declared upon us.
Doug and I got along fine and were close friends through the rest of our schooling together and went our separate ways for 50 years after high school. Apparently, each of us cogitated on the basis of our 6-year-old belligerence from time to time as the first thing we said to one another at our Pawhuska High School 50th Reunion in 2011 was, “What were we fighting about?” We still don’t know. However, I am glad whatever it was faded into the recesses of first grader myth as we have been good friends ever since and Peg and I really need a ride home from the Tulsa airport.
Another mystery that has arisen is why we are being “mined” by someone just 3 miles from our apartment on the shore of the Black Sea. You probably are aware, Gentle Reader, that the country of Georgia as well as the countries of Ukraine, Russia and Turkey are arrayed around the Black Sea. I assume you are aware that someone, maybe several someones, are casting explosive sea mines into the Black Sea to discourage shipping.
Now, Peg and I are not angry with anyone in Georgia or Ukraine and our visit to Turkey was both pleasant and educational. Well, we did have to fend off several aggressive rug merchants, but no violence occurred. So, my “usual suspect” is Russia cast the sea mines adrift and one exploded near us. Does this mean we get combat pay?
Peg has included the website address so that you can see the photograph of the exploding sea mine. As mentioned, we were 3 miles away and totally unaware of any danger. Still, just as the non-existent reasons behind the fist fights between Doug and me, I do wonder what Peg and I ever did to provoke Putin. (https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/sea-mine-explodes-off-georgia-111500226.html
I guess what we’ll do when we touch the hollowed soil of Osage County, Oklahoma is send Mr. Putin a letter and ask him why he’s upset with us. If he’ll just let us know what sins and transgressions we have committed against him, we’ll be glad to repent. It’s preferable to explosions encroaching on our reverie and upsetting the neighbors’ cattle and horses.
If you happen to be one of the true followers of “Gavel Gamut”, that is, one who started with me in 1990 and still hopes to glean something of interest from it, let me say, Gentle Reader, you are 33 years older and still hopeful. Now, whether that means you are any wiser, well, only you can decide. As for me, since I started this column only because I was asked to do so by my good friend, Jim Kohlmeyer, who had just bought The New Harmony Times newspaper and was looking for filler, I certainly feel the passing of the time. About 1,000 of these burnt offerings have been sacrificed on the altar of public opinion since 1990. At a calculation of approximately between 500 and 1,000 words per column, that means, if you have been a binge reader, you have digested about one million of my words; you have my sincere sympathy. Perhaps a therapist might help.
I personally know of only a few living persons who from the beginning have inexplicably clung to the hope for “something of value” from “Gavel Gamut”. Those persons shall remain anonymous to preserve their reputations and perhaps stave off mental commitment petitions.
Over the years I have delved into subjects from the serendipitous to the scatological and the topical to the long-forgotten. I have eulogized some heroes and castigated some villains. Frequently I have followed the Friends TV show formula and written about nothing. Through it all, no one seemed to take note, whether to cheer or jeer. I remain gratified by the benign neglect.
Now, today’s column falls into that realm of nostalgia where I have sometimes wandered such as when sadness, personal or political, took control of my pen. You see, Gentle Reader, Peg, who has often been unfairly abused in this column, and I are nearing the end of our 6 month mission to the country of Georgia. We are homesick, but already sense the missing of our new Georgian friends and the many enriching experiences we have enjoyed with them.
Should you be one of those “Gavel Gamut” followers who regularly whiles away your down time with this column you may recall that I was contacted by the President of the National Judicial College last spring about working with the Georgian judiciary for the American Bar Association, the United States Agency for International Development and the East-West Management Institute. Peg and I said yes then and are now two weeks from completing our mission here. Our general rules of engagement were to observe Georgian judges in court and, if asked, offer any relevant information about how America’s judicial experience might help enhance Georgian judicial independence and court access.
We have found the Georgian judges and their court staffs to be hard working, friendly and open to positive suggestions. We have averaged approximately one formal presentation a week and observed many daily court hearings. It has been a true learning experience for us and, I hope, of value to our Georgian colleagues. At least they have had the graciousness to tell us it has.
Georgia is a beautiful country of four million friendly people who are justly proud of their 8,000 year old culture that includes the claimed origin of wine and wonderfully complex and interesting cuisines. We have gained both friends and pounds in carrying out the social aspects of our tour.
As with all the peoples Peg and I have had the pleasure to work with through my membership on the faculty of the National Judicial College, the Georgian people all speak highly of their friendship with America. They appreciate the generosity of Americans and look to us for leadership in international relations. It has been gratifying to us to work with Palestinians, Ukrainians, Russians and Georgians who have opened their hearts to us and our beloved country. It will be sweet to get home, but bittersweet to leave.
About 4:30 a.m. on February 06 in the country of Georgia Peg and I were awakened by a strange squeaking/creaking sound as if a giant was rolling around on bare bed springs. The sound appeared to come from above us and all around us. We checked through our small apartment and even ventured out on our 17th floor open air balcony and into the indoor hallway.
Peg advised we should exit our apartment but I said, “max nix, let’s go back to sleep; it is probably just a neighbor moving furniture.” These two reactions pretty much sum up how Peg and I address most situations. It turned out it was a neighbor, but the neighbor was the neighboring country of Turkey that was dealing with another kind of giant, giant 7.8 and 7.6 earthquakes. Our apartment in Batumi, Georgia is only 12 miles from the Turkish border and as it turns out, a little less that 400 miles from the epicenter of the quakes.
When we turned on CNN at 7:00 a.m. we learned about the devastation caused by Mother Nature. As we had just spent a week in Istanbul, Turkey the middle of January we were anxious about how the people of Turkey and its bordering countries, Georgia and Syria, had fared. Georgia came through unscathed, but Turkey and Syria have lost over 16,000 people to death and many more thousands to injuries, loss of homes, water, food, power and shelter from the bitter cold.
The large Radisson Hotel building across the street from our apartment building had some internal shaking and furniture movement but our only effects, as far as we know, were the sounds caused by the barely swaying internal girders. We did have friends in other parts of our city who felt strong tremors and swaying structures. One of our friends told us she wanted to run out of her 10th floor apartment with her 3 year old daughter, but her husband said, no, he was going back to sleep, besides, it was cold outside. I guess the differing reactions Peg and I had to the quivering earth may be universal for wives versus husbands.
We were gratified that several friends and family members were so concerned about us we received emails and messages. They know our six-month mission to work with Georgian judges will soon come to an end and they want us to be safely home. As for us, we are beginning to feel our tour among our new friends, “getting short”. Of course, some folks reacted just as I did, that is, no reaction.
As we watched the relief and recovery efforts on TV we couldn’t help feeling as though we had been shot at and missed. Unfortunately, thousands of our fellow human beings were not so lucky. The videos are hard to look at and the feelings they raise are visceral. The entire catastrophic tragedy is summed up for me with one image, a father sitting in shocked disbelief, haunted by his inability to remove his young daughter from her tomb beneath huge slabs of concrete. He was just able to grasp part of her arm she managed to slip through a crack. The father held her hand as her life ebbed from her. He undoubtedly will always fault himself for being unable to do the impossible.
In 2016, Peg and I were signed up for a Danube River Cruise that included a right turn off the Danube and a flight south for three days in Istanbul, Turkey. Because there was unrest in Turkey in 2016 Americans were advised to avoid Istanbul until things calmed. Being raised during the 1940’s to the 1960’s we heeded our government’s advice. We had already visited Amsterdam, Vienna, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania and other ports of call, but we always regretted not getting to Istanbul, the one-time Constantinople and capitol of the Holy Roman Empire. We finally joined the Ottomans, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, British, etc., etc. and landed in Istanbul for a week in January, 2023.
We woke up early for breakfast and were amazed to have our morning coffee only a few hundred yards away from the fabled Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia Mosque and the ancient Hippodrome where Constantine and his Roman soldiers raced chariots almost 2,000 years before we arrived. Since we are Americans and, as the great French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville noted in 1835, we always eat breakfast much too early, we had the sixth floor dining room all to ourselves at 7:00 a.m. We had our choice of any large window looking through the morning mist at much of the history that eventually made the revelations of Christianity and later Islam the dynamic forces they became. It was an exciting and intriguing panorama. We could not wait to finish our non-bacon breakfast and go walk where Constantine and so many others had.
We hired a guide even though the Turkish people were not only open and friendly, but also generally able and willing to speak English and help assist us in our quest to experience great architecture and artifacts. We were impressed that both the marvelous Blue Mosque with its glittering blue mosaic tiles and the even more overpowering Hagia Sophia Mosque were open for free to any member of the public without regard to faith or lack thereof. At the Blue Mosque they had a free lecture on Islam and gave any visitor who wanted one a copy of the Quran in any language one chose. Peg and I accepted one in English to replace the one we had been given at an open house at the mosque in Evansville, Indiana in 2005 that had somehow been misplaced in our moves. Although Peg and I were both raised Christian we thought we should at least know something about another faith practiced by over 1/4 of the world’s population. I have, also, donned a yarmulke and accepted invitations to synagogues and Peg lived in a Jewish neighborhood when she was a child. I have not found either the Islamic or Judaic experiences to be harmful or the Christian one either for that matter.
Anyway, after being amazed by the Roman columns and fortresses, the aqueduct and especially the gigantic fresh water Roman cistern carved out of the solid rock beneath Istanbul, we visited one more religious relic that, whether genuine or apocryphal, truly astounded us. In a museum attached to the Sultan’s Palace was a glass case protecting what was claimed to be the bones of the forearm and hand of John the Baptist brought back from the Holy Land by the Sultan. Whether in truth or myth, it was still inspiring to be close to a hand that baptized Jesus. Now, even a skeptic such as I had to suspend analysis for awe by that sight only two feet away.
Later that week we took a boat cruise on the Straights of the Bosphorus and sailed from Europe to Asia then back again. The world map showed we were extremely close to two of the great battlefields of history, Gallipoli and Troy. To think we were riding on the same waters as thousands of Australians and Turkish soldiers who struggled in that great WWI slaughter and also where one of my childhood classic heroes from the Iliad, Achilles, helped bring down “the topless towers of Ilium” was worth every inconvenience and the six year wait since our first attempt to “conquer” Istanbul.
I urge you, Gentle Reader, to follow the steps of those who did so much to make us who we are. They may be gone but you will never forget them for helping to make us, us.