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Attorney’s visit to China offers a glimpse of country’s effort to re-establish rule of law

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JAMES P. LEUTE
November 13, 2007
— Jim Carney doesn’t expect to pick up any cases in China, but a two-week visit to the country did leave the Janesville attorney with a wealth of contacts and a better understanding of an evolving legal system.

And maybe Carney and the other 40 or so trial attorneys comprising a People to People citizen ambassador delegation left their counterparts in China with some insight on the American legal system that China is trying to emulate.


The People to People program is the brainchild of President Dwight Eisenhower, who believed that ordinary citizens of different nations, if able to communicate directly, would solve their differences and find a way to live in peace.


“The idea is to get to know people on a personal level rather than at a government level,” said Carney, who participated through the American Association for Justice, formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.


In October, Carney’s group visited Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai.


After the Communist victory in 1949, China quickly abolished its legal codes and tried to create a system of socialist law copied from the Soviet Union. Eventually, the country’s legal system collapsed.


With the Sino-Soviet split and the Cultural Revolution, all legal work was suspected of being counter-revolutionary, and the legal system completely collapsed.


“In the 1960s, all education was basically shut down, including law schools,” said Carney of the Carney, Davies & Thorpe law firm.


“They re-opened in the ’70s, but the legal system was suspended until 1978.


“They’ve been rebuilding it over the last 30 years. There really are no laws, so they’ve been trying to establish the rule of law.”


Between 1978 and 1990, China patterned its system after those in Germany, France and Japan. Since 1990, the U.S. and British systems have served as the models.


Dialogue between Carney’s group and its Chinese counterparts was influenced by the setting and the presence of Communist Party members.


“The people talked with us, but they were very careful what they said publicly,” Carney said. “Individually, they were very open.


“ We asked tough questions, but you could tell when we crossed a line.”


Carney’s group met with law students, attorneys and one fellow who was supposedly the chief justice of China’s supreme court. In Xi’an, the group sat in on an appellate proceeding that few if any westerners have ever seen, Carney said.


“The procedure was remarkably the same,” he said. “It was a three-judge panel, and the lead judge ran the show and the others asked minimal questions.”


Carney said he was impressed with the strides China has made in the 30 years since it started from scratch with its legal system.


“Is it as good as our system? No,” Carney said. “They’ll get it right.


“I think our system looks very good. It’s neat that they’ve got one quarter of the people in the world and they’re patterning their system after ours.”



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