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U.S. law firms could help shape Afghanistan's future — for price

by St. Louis Post-Dispatch Monday, Jan. 07, 2008 at 4:18 PM

Law firms that contribute money to the U.S. effort towards an effective and transparent justice system in Afghanistan will be given a say in the carrying out of those policies. Bigger contributors will have more involvement, including the opportunity to go on official trips to Afghanistan. Donations by law firms will be tax deductible, but they can't earmark donations for specific uses.Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the plan is "essential to the country's success" in combating corruption, drug trafficking and other major problems in the nation.

By Philip Dine


Sunday, Jan. 06 2008

WASHINGTON — Hoping to turn around a tenuous judicial situation in Afghanistan,

the State Department is establishing a public-private partnership that gives

American law firms a role in the troubled nation's future.

Law firms that contribute money to the U.S. effort towards an effective and

transparent justice system in Afghanistan will be given a say in the carrying

out of those policies. The goals include training more defense attorneys so

they will be available to ordinary Afghans and training more women as

prosecutors and judges.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the plan is "essential to the

country's success" in combating corruption, drug trafficking and other major

problems in the nation.

Although the plan to involve U.S. lawyers hasn't gotten off the ground yet,

some experts wonder how many law firms will participate. And Sen. Christopher

Dodd, D-Conn., a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,

sharply criticized the idea.

"Once again this administration wants to outsource important policies to the

private sector because resources and trained experts are tied up in a failed

policy in Iraq," Dodd said.

The effort is being led by St. Louisan Tom Schweich, a high-ranking State

Department official who said he was not aiming for privatization. "All of the

programs are publicly administered," he said. "This is simply a source of

funding and some expertise."

Schweich said he would personally approach St. Louis law firms.

"Generally what we're looking for is for law firms to make a two-year

commitment for ,000 a year," he said. "Partners" will serve on an advisory

committee that will have input into how resources are allocated, attend press

conferences and get regular briefings from senior State Department officials.

Bigger contributors will have more involvement, including the opportunity to go

on official trips to Afghanistan.

Donations by law firms will be tax deductible, but they can't earmark donations

for specific uses. The State Department will steer the money through local,

non-governmental organizations such as the Afghan Women Judges Association,

Legal Aid Organization of Afghanistan and Afghan Prosecutors Association.

Co-chairing the effort with Schweich is Robert O'Brien, managing partner of the

Los Angeles office of Arent Fox, a law firm based in Washington.


Schweich has been in charge of the State Department's largely unsuccessful

effort to curb illicit narcotics production and trafficking in Afghanistan,

whose poppies account for about 90 percent of the world's heroin.

He hopes an effective judicial system could help. He said U.S. and Afghan

counter-narcotics efforts had been hamstrung by the legal system's inability to

arrest, try and incarcerate drug producers.

Rice said the program's aim was to enlist private money and skills to help

establish "the rule of law" in Afghanistan and boost the professionalism of

Afghan lawyers and judges.

"We are asking American law firms and law schools to help the Afghan judicial

system in a number of ways," she said. "By providing lawyer-to-lawyer support,

we hope to bring Afghan practitioners into the larger international community

of legal professionals."

The State Department hopes to initially raise as much as million over the

next two years, adding to the million the State Department is already

spending on the country's justice system, Schweich said.

The Justice Department is helping, but federal prosecutors don't want to train

defense attorneys, he said.

The program has been crafted to avoid conflicts of interest that would give

firms favoritism in their business dealings with the State Department, he said.

Along with St. Louis, where Schweich was a partner at Bryan Cave before joining

the administration, he'll personally focus on law firms in Washington, New

York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

The University of Utah has already offered to serve as a training ground for

some Afghan prosecutors, donating faculty and facilities. Schweich hopes to

seek a similar arrangement in St. Louis.


Afghan legal officials currently work in rudimentary conditions, both in terms

of physical facilities and training. Judges and lawyers often rely on their

personal understanding of Islamic law and tribal codes without taking Afghan

laws into account. Those laws differ in that they are unwritten and vary from

region to region.

One goal of the partnership is to help set up an independent bar association in

Afghanistan to regulate entry into the profession, uphold professional

standards and ethics, protect the public interest and advocate for the

independence of lawyers.

Another goal is to promote women in the legal system. Under the Taliban, Rice

noted, women were largely relegated to the home, but since the radical regime's

overthrow in 2001, the struggling Afghan justice system has hired a number of

women. Still, of 1,500 judges nationwide, only 60 are women.

Analysts say the program seems like a good idea but will probably encounter

challenges in practice.

Mauro De Lorenzo, an expert in international development at the American

Enterprise Institute, wondered "how eager the law firms will be in

participating." The impact will be reduced if the participation is more

"symbolic" with firms doing only what they think is expected of them, he said.

Lisa Pinsley is a development expert who recently returned from four years in

Afghanistan, where she worked with the United Nations and the Afghan government

recruiting outside experts to aid development. She said the task grew

increasingly difficult as attention turned from Afghanistan.

Pinsley said the State Department program's success would depend partly on how

effectively it was integrated into an overall strategy for the nation by the

U.S. government, Europe and others.

"The more money and attention, that's great," Pinsley said.

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