Russian Judges Visit As Part Of Open World Program

A murder trial, handcuffs and a holding cell, a tour of the federal penitentiary,  the World War I Museum, and plenty of good Kansas City barbecue – those were the highlights for five Russian trial judges who visited the Western District of Missouri September 26 through October 3, 2009.

The judges, from the city of Belgorod in western Russia, near the border with Ukraine, visited the Kansas City area for a week under the auspices of the Open World program conducted by the U.S. Library of Congress.  The program is designed to build mutual understanding between the United States and Russia and their leaders, and to enable Russian judges to learn about the American justice system.

Bankruptcy Judge Jerry W. Venters was the host judge and coordinator for the trip.  The Russian judges and an English-speaking facilitator were home-hosted by members of the Kansas City Plaza and Leawood Rotary Clubs.   The District Court was the official host court.  The Court, Judge Venters, and the Rotary clubs hosted a similar delegation in 2007.

One of the highlights for the Russian judges was observing a murder trial in Judge Gary Fenner’s court.  The judges were able to observe a part of the jury selection process – jury trials are not generally held in most cases in Russia – and they returned the next day to watch the testimony of a key government witness.    They noted that, in Russia, the lawyers are not allowed such wide-ranging cross examination.

Judge Grigorenko


While visiting the courthouse, Chief Deputy Marshal Tony Gasaway demonstrated the use of various physical restraints for prisoners, Judge Torokhova with Motorcyclesranging from the old standby (handcuffs) to modern devices (taser guns).  The Russian judges also got a tour of the Marshal’s holding cells.  Another highlight of the week was a three-hour tour of the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, led by Warden Claude Chester and his executive staff.  After the tour, some of the judges questioned whether the visit had been staged, as prisoners seemed to move freely about the prison complex from housing to classes to jobs.

The judges were treated to more than one good Kansas City steak and several tastings of Kansas City’s renowned barbecue.  They visited the World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, saw the artifacts from the Steamboat Arabia, toured the Harley-Davidson motorcycle plant, met with state court judges in Johnson County, and talked about the Russian legal system with students in an open forum at Avila University.

“This is just one small way we can build understanding and goodwill between Russia and the United States,” Judge Venters said.  “Hopefully, it moves us a step closer to peace in the world.”

Judge Torokhova



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