Retired Lane County Circuit Court Judge Jim Hargreaves recently returned to Eugene after spending a year as a member of the judiciary in Kosovo under an agreement between the Kosovo government and the European Union. He worked as both a trial court judge and a judge of the Kosovo Court of Appeal. His area of assignment was major criminal cases, including government corruption, organized crime, and serious violent crimes.

Judge Hargreaves spoke today about some of the many challenges of judging in a legal system in which he had no previous experience:

  • Kosovo is highly corrupt with a strong interweaving of organized crime in government.
  • As a result, judges and prosecutors were unlikely to pursue cases involving many of the higher ups or particularly heinous crimes. Therefore, Judge Hargreaves was assigned to those cases – the cases noone else wants to be involved with.
  • There were 10 other judges involved from Europe and America.
  • There were a lot of times they had to just do the best they could either because they could not find any Kosovo law for guidance or that the law was so confusing that they couldn’t figure out how to apply it. There were no formal processes and only one very small book to guide them on how to approach these cases and practice law in Kosovo.
  • Here, prosecutors, defendants talk to each other outside the courtroom in preparation for the case. They are required to share evidence. In Kosovo, they do not. They don’t talk at all.
  • Also, here judges are not informed about the case prior to presiding over it. There, the judge oversees everything and knows everything prior to the court date. The judge runs the trial completely. If there are witnesses that should have been called, or evidence that should have been seen, it is the judge’s fault.
  • Here, 90% of criminal cases never see trials. Deals are cut and presented to judges. In Kosovo, if a prosecutor files charges, the case will go to trial. There’s no such thing as dismissing a case regardless of how ridiculous the prosecution’s case is.
  • Nothing is published.
  • Kosovo was Muslim but that was never an issue.
  • They were transported to court in armored vehicles and thought this was excessive until about 4 months in, there was an incident involving an AK-47. Otherwise, they felt quite safe.
  • The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applied to the Kosovo system as well.
  • The code book they followed was written by an American based on European law, translated in to Albanian, then translated back in to English.
  • The entire year of his time there, all cases were translated. He never learned Albanian or Serbian. Often lawyers disagreed with the translations in the trial.
  • Overall, the experience was incredible and he feels despite all the challenges, people received justice.