Ah, Where All Things are Possible: “A Fulbrighter Finds Home” (Postscript)

This is the conclusion to Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis’s article about her time spent teaching as a Fulbright Scholar in Bulgaria. Part 4 may be found here. We have previously brought you Part 3 of this series. Part 2 of this series by the Hon. Maureen Duffy-Lewis. Part 1 is here.  And now, we conclude Judge Duffy-Lewis’s adventure in Bulgaria….

As a result of my Fulbright experience I have a greater appreciation of the knowledge gained by participating on various court committees.   Working with colleagues on approximately 30 committees throughout the years provided me with an understanding of many aspects and considerations of major court operations.  This information and a wide perspective has proven very valuable in my ability to advise and assist the Bulgarian Courts.

It was very clear to me that because I came from the world’s largest court, that my opinions were held in very high regard.  I was often asked to participate and assist in programs due to my long tenure on the Los Angeles Superior Court and many Bulgarian Judges whom I regard as “colleagues in justice”, were grateful I was able to share my perspectives.  I have enjoyed meeting colleagues from around the EU and Bulgaria all working simultaneously to improve Justice.

I have gained a renewed sense of the enormous importance of justice as it is dispensed on a day to day basis to the average citizen and business looking to fairly resolve disputes.  When justice is delayed to a degree that it inhibits a timely resolution of disputes, the public begins to question the fairness of the system and asks the question “for whose benefit does the justice system exist”? The Bulgarian Courts suffer from a public perception of corruption because the public is suffering from a “Justice delayed is Justice denied” syndrome.

One of the accomplishments of which I am most proud, is being associated with and in assisting with the founding and opening of a wholly Bulgarian funded and supported Mediation Center.  The Mediation Center provides services to the Sofia Regional Court, the largest court in the country.  It occupies a historic building in Sofia and has over 30 mediator Judges and Lawyers participating.  The goal of the Mediation Center is to assist the Court in Case Management issues and also to improve the public’s access to early dispute resolution.  The grand opening occurred on January 27, 2010, to much public fanfare and substantial press coverage.  I along with my judicial colleagues in Sofia, are hopeful that this center is a first step in addressing the public’s negative perception of the Judiciary in Bulgaria.

My Fulbright was truly a gift from the American People. The Fulbright Program is the premier flagship international academic and cultural exchange program of the United States of America.  Its purpose is to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.”  The Fulbright Program was established in 1948 by Congress at the urging of Senator J. William Fulbright.  Initial funding was derived from the sale of war related materials.  The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of  Educational  and Cultural Affairs.  The Scholarship Board is composed of twelve members from the academic and public arena appointed by the President of the United States, they set the policies and criteria for candidate selection.  The program has many world leaders as esteemed alumni.  My selection was truly a humbling honor.