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Bar News - August 10, 2007

Open World Group Targets Domestic Violence



From left: Valeri Komdrashikin- Judge, Igor Lukin- Facilitator, Svetlana Kuzhnikova- Advocate, Elena Kalvet- Federal Judge, Ludmina Kabanova- Advocate, Julia Shadritsna- Advocate, Raica Shemyakiva- Federal Judge, Olga Khosova- Facilitator, Alexi Chmelev- Advocate

Unfamiliar voices spoke an unfamiliar language at the Holiday Inn restaurant in Concord on Wednesday July 25 where two federal judges, one magistrate judge, four attorneys, and two facilitators from Vologda, Russia joined several members of the New Hampshire legal community to discuss the issue of domestic violence in their respective cultures.


Vologda, a city in northeast Russia, is located in Vologda province, 280 miles east of Moscow.


The oblast (an administrative division of a province) members were part of the Open World Program funded by the Library of Congress. The jurists spent a week traveling between Concord and Manchester with their American counterparts to study US federal and state legal systems.


The visit is part of an ongoing exchange  of visits and projects between members of the NH judiciary and legal community and their counterparts in Vologda, called the NH-Vologda Rule of Law Partnership. 


Wednesday’s dinner, however, was entirely devoted to addressing the issue of domestic violence in Vologda.


Oblast judges and attorneys cited 1950’s America as equivalent to the current state of Russian culture, saying that many in the justice system view family matters as private and outside the realm of the justice system. They also stated that the majority of domestic violence cases stem from alcohol abuse and when they make it to court, the victims – often spouses – will refuse to press charges.


What became clear throughout the discussion was not necessarily the difference in cultural attitude, but the familiarity which many in the American justice system have with similar problems.


NH Superior Court Judge Kathleen McGuire, after listening to the Russian advocates through a translator, said: “You can see by our reactions that we are all too familiar with your stories.”


The NH-Vologda partnership began in 1998 when the New Hampshire Supreme Court decided to follow the lead of  the Vermont Supreme Court which had started a similar exchange several years earlier. Judge McGuire was asked by Chief Justice David Brock to lead the effort. Over the years, the group has worked on numerous projects to assist the development of the courts and the legal systems of Vologda, and also benefited from the information and views of the Vologda judges who have visited NH.


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