* Warning: This Blog Entry May Contain High Levels of Legal Nerdiness *
Today’s Polish adventure was a trip to one of the nicest court buildings I have ever seen. Built three years ago, Bialystok is home to a massive court house, complete with a criminal trial room with some fantastic technology to enhance the presentation of evidence. It also allows judges and lawyers across the country(ies) to connect via teleconference as needed.
The court house staff & Justices were more than welcoming, touring us through the court house and inviting us back again next week. We were able to sit in on a civil trial (commercial case dealing with a breach of contract for non-payment following shipment of goods), but, not surprisingly to those familiar with the litigation process, the case settled moments before trial, and we only were able to see the entry of the terms of settlement (not that we knew that’s what they were up to given it was all in Polish). The most exciting moment for me was when I understood the judge saying the number “17.”
At least, I think that’s what he said . . .
It was interesting to see how other countries administer justice, though. Professor B’s advice was to treat the trial as a play, watching the “characters” perform and understanding the process by their actions, since we couldn’t understand the words. This was spot on advice. From the start, even the costumes were different than in an American courthouse. All judges and attorneys wear long, black robes. A person’s position is indicated by the color of the sash. Judges wear purple; attorneys wear red, blue or green, depending on whether they handle civil, criminal, or both types of cases. This type of court room apparel in the US would really go a long way in stopping my morning wardrobe crises.
The other feature in the court house that struck me as brilliant was a glorified “deli counter” type number system to help direct people visiting the court house. From an electronic menu board, you can select the reason you are at the court (family law, property issue, etc), and it prints out a specific number for you. When your number is called, you head to a staff member specific to that area, who can then guide you on your way. It’s not a legal advice dispensary, but it seems like it serves to alleviate the frustration people experience when they wait a really long time in the wrong line and have to start all over again.