By NATALIE GAWDIAK
The Law Library observed Law Day on May 3 with a series of readings by the staff on the theme of law and justice. Their remarks were delivered before some 90 colleagues and guests gathered in the Thomas Jefferson Building.
Law Librarian Rubens Medina opened the annual event with senior legal research specialist Pamela B. Craig, who introduced the participants. Guests, who included friends from the House Legislative Counsel's Office, the World Bank, foreign embassies and staff attorneys from around the Library, were welcomed at a reception supported by the Friends of the Law Library at the close of the program.
Mr. Medina welcomed the audience and told them that the Law Library looks forward to Law Day because it affords "us an opportunity to reflect on our profession and our mission, as well as reminds us that, at the center of that profession and mission, law is the instrument in which for thousands of years humanity has placed its hopes for justice and peace." He commended the staff for their "enthusiasm and seriousness" in selecting readings that reflected justice from the viewpoint of their various traditions and legal heritages.
The first reading, by foreign legal specialist Stephen F. Clarke, from Continuing Poundmaker & Riel's Quest: Presentations Made at a Conference on Aboriginal Peoples and Justice, spoke to the differences between the Euro-Canadian idea of justice and that of various North American aboriginal peoples, as described by Murray Sinclair, associate chief justice of the Provincial Court of Manitoba:
"In the dominant society, deviant behavior ... is considered a wrong that must be controlled by interdiction, enforcement and correction designed to punish and deter. ... The emphasis is on punishment. ... Restitution is ordered generally as a form of financial compensation and usually only if the offender has the financial resources to do so."
But in most aboriginal societies, "reparation or restitution to the victim or the community in a way that restores balance and harmony to the people involved [is] a primary consideration. The person wronged, whether bereaved or impoverished, would be entitled to some form of restitution. In the eyes of the [aboriginal] community, sentencing the offender to incarceration, or worse still, placing him or her on probation, without first addressing the issue of reconciliation, would be tantamount to completely relieving the offender of any responsibility for restitution of the wrong. ... Such action is viewed by them as an abdication of responsibility and a total exoneration of the wrongdoer."
Robert N. Gee, chief of Law Library Public Services, was inspired by the closing argument of the defense counsel in Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. In the trial of a black man falsely accused of attacking a white woman in Alabama in 1935, the defense attorney appeals to the jury:
"One more thing, gentlemen, before I quit. Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal. ... There is a tendency ... for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. ... We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe -- some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they're born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others -- some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men. But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal -- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. Court in the land or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal."
Judicial discretion was the focus of the passage chosen by Ruth Levush, the Israeli senior legal specialist, from a book by the chief justice of Israel, Aharon Barak.
He asks: "Is democracy merely the rule of the people and their determination of policy through their elected representatives? Or is democracy also certain fundamental values to which the regime must be faithful?" He feels that "democracy is multidimensional. It is the realization of certain fundamental values, such as basic human rights." Siding with the right of judges to be the arbiters of justice despite their not having been elected by the people, Barak maintains that "a judge who adopts policy on the basis of the democracy's fundamental values makes the democracy faithful to itself."
Edith Palmer, senior legal specialist for German-speaking countries, returned to one of the fundamental sources of Western law with readings from the Roman law book "Laws of the Twelve Tables." In addition to reading from a translation, Ms. Palmer gave the audience a taste of how the Twelve Tables sound in the succinct Latin original.
The summons to court (Table 1) lays down the basic principles on how to commence and carry out a legal action. Whereas defendants had to come to court, if necessary by force, the peaceful settlement of disputes was also encouraged, such as in Law VII: "When litigants wish to settle their dispute among themselves, even while they are on their way to appear before the Praetor, they shall have the right to make peace; and whatever agreement they enter into, it shall be considered just, and shall be confirmed." Law X set a time limit: "The setting of the sun shall be the extreme limit of time within which a judge must render his decision."
Basic elements of another major Western influence on law, the Greek legal heritage, were part of Theresa Papademetriou's reading. The Law Library's senior legal specialist for Greek law read passages from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics:
"A rule of justice is natural that has the same validity everywhere, and does not depend on our accepting it or not. A rule is conventional that in the first instance may be settled in one way or the other indifferently, though having once been settled it is not indifferent."
Justice from a more modern perspective was explored in an excerpt chose by Russian senior legal specialist Peter Roudik from Striving for Law in a Lawless Land: Memoirs of a Russian Reformer by Alexander M. Yakovlev:
"Criminal law very often reflects the significant features of a given culture -- its mores, its political and social structure. .. Criminal justice plays a peculiar role in history. ... It is precisely here [in the criminal justice system of a country] that an essential facet of society manifests itself: the level of that society's civilization, its recognition of the rights and legitimate interests of its citizens, its respect for human dignity."
Polish senior legal specialist Bozena Sarnecka-Crouch read from the Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791, in view of the fact that Congress had declared May 3 as "Polish Constitution Day" (Public Law 101-532). Ms. Sarnecka-Crouch read:
"We declare most solemnly, that any person coming into Poland, from whatever part of the world, or returning from abroad, as soon as he sets his foot on the territory of the Republic, becomes free and at liberty to exercise his industry, wherever and in whatever manner he pleases, to settle either in towns or villages, to farm and rent lands and houses, on tenures and contracts, for as long a term as may be agreed upon."
The readings concluded with Kersi B. Shroff, senior legal specialist for the United Kingdom and other British-derived systems and currently the chief of the Law Library's Western Law Division. Mr. Shroff read from Francis Lyman Windolph's "Shakespeare and the Law," in Reflections of the Law in Literature. Windolph believed that Shakespeare was "generally contemptuous of the law, lawyers and legal procedure" of his day. He supported his point by proposing that the legal argument over a suicide by drowning used in an actual court case was satirized in the dialogue between the gravediggers' who stand over Ophelia's grave in Hamlet:
"'Here lies the water; good: here stands the man; good; if the man go to this water, and drown himself, it is, will he, nill he, he goes -- mark you that; but if the water come to him and drown him, he drowns not himself: argal [arguably], he that is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life.'"
"I think no reasonable person can doubt that ... Shakespeare was amusing himself at the expense of what he called 'old father antic the law,'" Mr. Shroff said.
"So much for the lawyers talking nonsense."
Ms. Gawdiak is a writer-editor in the Law Library.