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Sister Court in Slovenia
The Ljubljana District Court in the heart of Slovenia has a sister court in Orlando, in the Middle District of Florida, several time zones away. Although distant, there is a family resemblance. Both district courts are relatively new, with Ljubljana’s democracy dating from 1991, and the Middle District of Florida created in 1962. At more than 2 million people, Orlando’s metro area is nearly the same size as Slovenia.
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Back row from left to right: Bradley Freden, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana; Ms. Alenka Jelenc Puklavec, acting Supreme Court President; and Aleš Zalar, Slovenia’s Minister of Justice. Front row, seated from left to right: Ms. Martina Erzin, acting District Court of Ljubljana President; and Chief Judge Anne C. Conway, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
And now, following an agreement signed by the two courts earlier this year, the two sisters are learning from each other and working together to share innovations and ideas.
Chief Judge Anne C. Conway (M.D. Fl.) and clerk of court Sheryl Loesch recently traveled to Ljubljana, the capitol of Slovenia, over a long holiday weekend, paying their own airfare, to begin the exchange of information.
While overseas, Conway and Loesch also kept up with their workloads back home by using remote access to the Judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files system. More than once, Conway communicated with judges back home court with orders issued (across several time zones) in the wee hours of the morning.
But the time in Slovenia also was important to the federal Judiciary’s long-standing commitment to the international rule of law.
“During the trip, I came to appreciate even more the benefits of the exchange,” said Conway. “Our experiences will make our judiciaries more effective and productive for our respective citizens.” The Middle District of Florida is looking forward to hosting a delegation from their sister court.
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The sister court agreement, in English and Slovene.
“A sister court relationship is an opportunity for an exchange of ideas,” Conway told dignitaries at the signing. “Through sister-court relationships, lessons and experiences of international visits are extended and solidified, resulting in greater cross-border understanding. Overall the establishment of sister-court relationships assists judges in our quest to enhance the rule of law.”
“They are very interested in settlement conferences, how to handle backlogs, and how to keep cases moving,” said Loesch. In fact, many European Union countries look to the Republic of Slovenia as an example of a particularly progressive court system for its use of mediation and arbitration. Given the rapid growth of alternative dispute resolution in the United States, the discussions in this area were beneficial to both nations.
“Our jurisdictions are very similar in that we handle similar types of civil and criminal cases,” said Conway. “We can learn a lot from each other in case management, court governance, and dispute resolution.”
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Courtroom in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
One of the interesting differences between the two judicial systems was the use of lay judges during trials. “If you asked, they’d say they didn’t have a jury system,” said Conway, “but they have what they call lay judges who serve on a panel, in addition to a judge. The more serious the charge, the more lay judges on a panel.”
Conway and Loesch learned that defendants there have the right to determine the language in which court proceedings will take place—in Slovene or Italian. Also, Slovenian courts don’t use court reporters—the proceedings are recorded.
“We have the best justice system in the world,” said Loesch, who is looking forward to the sister-court exchange. Slovenia may be a fairly new democracy, but their judicial processes are well developed. “I think it is incumbent upon us to share what we know and to learn from exchanges with the judicial systems of other countries.”
Sister Courts and Countries
Several federal district courts around the country have established sister-court relationships with other judiciaries. Among the federal courts and their sister courts are:
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky
District Court of Pula, Croatia
U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Tennessee
Commercial Court of Zagreb, Croatia
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington
Primorsky Kray Region, Russian Federation
U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota
Court of Appeals, Kirovohrad Region, Ukraine
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida
District Court of Ljubljana, Republic of Slovenia
An Oklahoma-Ulynavsk Oblast Rule of Law Partnership also has been admitted to the Russian American Rule of Law Consortium. www.rarolc.net