International LL.M. Students Get Their Day in Court
Diversity is one of the hallmarks of life in Los Angeles. So it is only fitting that Southwestern’s LL.M. program hosts a cadre of international students from a wide range of countries and cultures. Students from Argentina, Armenia, Belarus, Brazil, China, England, Netherlands, Russia and Saudi Arabia have come to Southwestern this year to study the American legal system.
On August 13, they visited Los Angeles Superior Court, where Presiding Judge David Wesley ’72 gave them a brief overview of the largest trial court system in the United States. The International students were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour some of the courtrooms and told about the challenges of running an agency with more than 550 sitting judges, 4,200 support staff, and 38 courthouses covering 4,000 square miles and handling three million cases.
Despite the shrinking budget and expanding caseload that he deals with, Judge Wesley says, “I’ve loved everything I’ve done in the law.” He has managed to efficiently run the court, which has paperwork that is “13 times the height of Mt. Everest.” He explained that 44 police departments in 88 cities all feed into the L.A. Superior Court.
The LL.M. students were then taken on a walking tour of the court buildings, including access to underground tunnels where they got to see the doors that led to an old courthouse jail. At the end of the tunnels was the Sheriff’s lot, where 500 to 600 prisoners are transported by bus each day and brought in for their court appearances. LL.M. student Gevory Muradyan who is originally from Armenia but studied law in Russia, said it was most interesting to learn that separate buses are provided for prisoners with disabilities.
Once the students reached the criminal courts building, they got to observe the action in three different courtrooms. In the arraignment courtroom on the fifth floor, the suspects are seated in an enclosed area, the charges against them are read and their pleas are made. Judge Wesley explained that, “99 percent of the time, they plead ‘not guilty.’” He later told students that 95 percent of criminal cases settle before going to trial.
Students were then split into two groups, each sitting in on a smaller courtroom to spend 20 minutes listening to witness’s testimony in a preliminary trial. Afterwards, students got a chance to observe attorneys arguing over the admissibility of certain evidence in an armed robbery trial. The judge presiding over that case then generously offered the students a tour of his courtroom and chambers.
“The entire visit was really interesting, getting to know the courts, the judges, actually watching the criminal process as it runs every day,” said Federico Efron, an LL.M. student from Argentina, who is also the 2014-2015 Siderman Fellow. “The most interesting thing, actually, was finding out that our system is not that different from the American system. Our process is not entirely oral as it is in America, but we are heading toward it, so it was like a glance into the future.”