Tag Archives | judiciary

Wrapping Up the Masindi Project

The third and final day of the Masindi Project was busy.  We started at 9 a.m. on Wednesday with most of the team calling final witnesses in for interview.  I went out to the Remand Home with two students, Steve and Megan, for some follow up projects.

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We called the two boys for follow first.  We asked our driver, whom we had just met, if he might be willing to translate for us (since none of us spoke Swahili, Arua, Acholi or any of the various local languages.  He happily agreed to help.

While the interviews began, I took photos and video around the Remand Home.  I haven’t made a documentary film in about two years, so I’m feeling eager for a new project.  I’d like to do something on the remand situation, but I haven’t put much thought into yet.  I also worked with Steve to take photos of the kids that we would print and give to them later.

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Day 2 at Jail for Kids in Africa

We are very busy here. The Remand Home project (jail for kids) in Uganda is moving along quickly with many cases in need of attention. We got on the road early to arrive at the Remand Home and work through several interviews.

The boy's remand building

On my team’s first interview, we called for the kid and about halfway through the interview we realized that another boy with a completely different case had come instead. The case was simple theft of an old wooden door by a boy who needed money to pay for school. The owner of the door saw him take it, retrieved it immediately, and had him caned. Then, on top of that, the owner had the boy arrested and he’s been waiting in jail for several months. The boy just wants to get back to school. You hear a case like this and you shake your head that it came to this.

Our next two cases were (aggravated defilement) rape of girls until 14 by older boys. In both cases, evidence was incredibly thin, but the boys both seemed believable that they had not committed the crime. In one instance, a feud had broken out between two sides of a family. To seek revenge for the boy of one side who had been arrested for stealing money, the other side accused him of defiling their younger daughter. It’s hard to say what really happened and I will be digging into the case file momentarily.

In the final case of defilement, the boy indicated that he might be a neighbor randomly accused. The girl had apparently not come home and her father beat her until she told him with whom she spent the night. She gave the neighbor boy’s name. We also interviewed the boy’s uncle (whom he lives with) who corroborated the story and said he was with him the entire day and they slept in the same room. The seemed so frustrated with the scenario and said, “I’ll just tell them I did it if it means I can go back to school!” Answers like this give me reason to believe he’s telling the truth.

These are just a sampling of the cases with which we’re dealing. Other cases range from death by poisoned insects to witch craft. We run the gamut here.

If you know Michael and Karen Mudgett from Malibu Presbyterian Church, I think they’re enjoying their time. Michael is definitely on top of things during the interviews. We’re not on the same team, but occasionally I hear him switch hats from lawyer to pastor and bark out something like, “Okay young man, now you tell me how you’re going to change your behavior around women.”

For those who know Carol Chase, she’s definitely in her element here. The fact patterns we get are better than law exam questions with all sorts of complex procedure and evidentiary problems. It’s criminal law professor’s dream and she’s loving try to solve these complex cases. “I want to come back here and do this again!” she blurted out after we finished today’s round of interviews.

Tomorrow is the final push—we need to get everything wrapped up and filed away. It will be a busy morning.

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Back in Uganda: The Masindi Project 2 is Beginning

I am back in Uganda this week for another installment of the Masindi Project—a juvenile justice initiative Pepperdine conducted in 2010.  On this trip, I’m joined by Pepperdine Law professor Carol Chase and Michael and Karen Mudgett from Malibu Presbyterian Church.  Michael is a lawyer turned pastor.

The long road back to Kampala

So far, things have been very busy.  We arrived in Uganda late Friday night and slept 3 hours at a hotel before departing to head north.  When I bring groups to Uganda, I like to start the trip with a quick safari over the weekend to get us out, active, and over jet lag.

On top of that, Paraa Safari Lodge is one of my favorite places in the world.  I looks like the kind of lodge that Disney would design, except that it is a real safari lodge!  I also love it’s celebration of African explorers—the walls are covered in paints of Livingstone, Speke, and the great Nile explorers.

The night we arrived at the lodge, we did the Nile cruise.  Again, much like Disney’s jungle boat ride, except that it’s all real.  Along the river banks you see cape buffalo, warthogs, elephants, hippos, and crocodiles.  It’s calm and relaxing.

Early, early the next morning, we arose for the game drive safari—you head out before sunrise.  I had one mission this time: see lions.  They had eluded me the past two visits.  We drove out quickly, blowing past the elephants and giraffes to try to find the lions early.  Thankfully, we were not disappointed.   A pride was spotted and we tracked them for a while.  We saw 4 or 5 lions up close—within 10 feet at one point.

After the safari, it was back to Masindi—a long 2.5 hour bumpy ride on dirt roads.  We pulled into town about 3 p.m. and checked into the Masindi Hotel, another one of my favorite hotels in Uganda.  It claims to be Uganda’s oldest hotel (built in 1923) and lays claim to being frequented by Ernest Hemingway during his trips to Africa.  I think they even claim he recuperated here after he crashed in an airplane.

We were also joined by all of the Pepperdine Law students and Professor Gash on Sunday night at the Masindi Hotel.  We briefed the team on what to expect the next few days as start the Masindi Project.  By evening, the local legal aid lawyer, Susan, and probation officer, William, arrived at our hotel and brought a few of the available case files.

The boys' remand building

My team will have about 7 or 8 cases.  So far, we have two files.  Both involve teenage boys accused of rape and imprisoned at this jail.  One of the victims was 3 years old, the other was 12.  The file also always thin, so our job is to figure out what happened in build the case for justice to be done.

For the most part, the kids here have been held for 1-2 years, far over the 6 month maximum that you can hold a child under Ugandan law.  A few have even crossed the 2 year mark, which means they arrived soon after I left on the first Masindi Project trip.

We head out to the jail in just a few short hours.  I will keep you posted on how this week transpires.

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Justice Kiryabwire of Uganda on the Global Justice Leadership Series [VIDEO]

For the second episode of the Global Justice Leadership Series, I’m thrilled to share one of my favorite people in the world, Justice Geoffrey Kiryabwire.  And, when I say “world,” I do mean the entire world–he’s a High Court Justice in Uganda!

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“Justice K” as we call him, is a great leader in Uganda’s legal system.  Educated in the UK, he chose to return to Uganda to serve his country.  He worked for Uganda’s Attorney General’s Office and went on to become the CEO of a Ugandan insurance company.  From there, he was called back into public service and to the Commercial Division of the High Court where he now serves as Head of Division.  On the High Court, Justice Kiryabwire has been an innovator, implementing dispute resolution tools and new technology.  He now also serves as judge for UNESCO.  Above all, Justice K is a man of great faith and humility.

In this episode, I ask him why he returned to public service in Uganda and how he is innovating on the Ugandan Judiciary.  We discuss what he’s learned on this trip to the U.S. and what the American legal system can learn from Uganda.  If anything will leave you filled with hope for the future of Uganda and the future of Africa, it will be rising leadership like Justice Geoffrey Kiryabwire.

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Caught Up in the Moment with Ugandan Judges

I’m exhausted tonight.  My last two days have been non-stop for 15 and 12 hours each respectively.  At Pepperdine, we are hosting a delegation of justices from Uganda.  We make sure that every detail of their day is planned from breakfast until they return to their hotels after dinner.  Although I’m tired, I speculate that I might one day look back on these visits–and the conversations–with awe and wonder.  Sometimes (especially when things are exhausting) its hard for us to see things clearly in the moment.

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Our current Ugandan visitors include Deputy Chief Justice Bahigeine, Principal Judge Bamwine, and Justice Kiryabwire.  The Deputy Chief Justice was one of the FIRST women lawyers in Uganda–she was a true pioneer in the legal profession.  The Principal Judge has had a prestigious career in the law and now oversees all of Uganda’s trial courts.  He has a very important job in determining how justice is practically sought and made accessible in Uganda.  Justice Kiryabwire is the head of the Commercial Division of the High Court, a brilliant legal mind, and one of Pepperdine’s greatest allies.

Over lunch today, we held conversations in our law school conference room about enhancing Uganda’s legal system.  The great challenge in Uganda is a lack of resources–both financial and human.  As a result, the rather young judicial system must be quick, open-minded, and,most of all, innovative.

Our conversation often reflected upon decisions the U.S. judicial system made a few decades ago (the U.S. is a much older judicial system with a larger pool of resources).  In this case, we talked about sentence guidelines for creating consistency in how criminal cases are resolved and plea bargain for allowing those charged with crimes an alternative to trial.

At our table, the Ugandan justices were considering decisions that would dramatically change how the justice system is made available to a nation of 30+ million people.  We were having discussions with Uganda’s #2 and #3 in command of the judicial branch on matters that would remold a nation.  It was as if we were sitting down with America’s founding fathers, such as Jefferson, Hamilton, and John Jay, to talk out how America’s system of government might be designed.

It hit me later how significant these conversations could be.  There’s a cautionary phrase about getting “caught up in the moment” and losing sight of the bigger picture.  Other times, we have the opposite problem.  We get so exhausted in the big picture, that we lose the moment.  We miss how incredible small meetings or details can be.

Our previous delegation from Uganda included the Chief Justice, Benjamin Odoki.  Odoki is an international legal giant and the father of Uganda’s Constitution (he penned it himself).  I spent a week driving Chief Justice Odoki around the Los Angeles area and Pepperdine’s campus.

Justice Kiryabwire reminded me yesterday how unique that moment was.  He said how few Ugandans can say they had the privilege of driving the Chief Justice.  “Wow,” I thought for a moment, “I drove the Chief Justice.”  And, I didn’t just drive him around, I rode roller coasters with him at Disneyland!

These are moments I want to remember.   In these moments I was a fly on the wall for a world-shaping conversation or I was privileged to drive the leader of a nation.  While nation-shaping moments don’t happen everyday, other spectacular moments do.  Lisa had to point out the brilliant, pink flowering tree that I ducked under every day coming into our apartment.  It’s marvelous, but I had missed it for the big picture.

I need to get caught up in the moment more often.

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