ABA Journal Chronicles Struggle from Corruption to Accountability
CHICAGO, June 24, 2009—The recent spate of killings in Mexico, particularly along the border region, is well documented by the media. How the Mexican government is trying to change its culture around the police, courts and the rule of law to deal with the problem is lesser known. A story in the July 2009 issue of the ABA Journal, “Justice in the Rough,” by Allen Pusey, documents the challenge of changing a legal system while narco-violence wreaks havoc on the safety of ordinary citizens as well as their trust in Mexican police, courts and the legal system in general.
Recent changes in the Mexican constitution, which are now being implemented state-by-state, bring rights that Americans take for granted, including the presumption of innocence. The former system all but forbade plea bargains by prosecutors, but now encourages alternatives to trial. These changes represent a major commitment to the rule of law, according to a law professor from Mexico quoted in the story. Unlike the United States, citizens do not turn to police for protection, nor to the courts for justice. With this long-standing distrust of the legal system, Pusey raises legitimate concerns whether changing the system can earn citizen respect for the law.
Lawyers on both sides of the Rio Grande as well as law professors and members of the El Paso Bar Association have been active in the reform efforts. It’s an uphill climb according to the article, because Mexico has “no jury trial, no grand jury, no case law, no limit on the ability of police to stop and frisk pedestrians, and no bail for defendants charged with crimes more serious than misdemeanors.” Nonetheless there is cautious optimism among legal leaders and scholars that the Mexican system of justice will be reformed with the efforts now taking place.
The genesis of the story came from Pusey’s time in Texas. Managing editor of the ABA Journal since April 2007, he spent nearly 30 years before then in Texas as an investigative reporter, primarily for the Dallas Morning News. Following a tour of duty in Viet Nam and a stint at Fort Bliss, he began his journalism career at the El Paso Times. He lived along the Mexican border for eight years, and returned from time to time to write about issues that had bilateral impact—immigration, pollution, drug trafficking and the Mexican financial crisis of 1982. In 1985, he was the first correspondent on the ground in Mexico City reporting on the earthquake that killed 10,000.
Now in Illinois, some 1500 miles away, these issues continue to intrigue him. The Juarez killings piece evolved because “I went down there expecting to do a story about violence and the breakdown of the rule of law. What I realized was that there had been no rule of law, only a European-themed facsimile that had long been twisted by cynicism and corruption.” As he dug in he realized, “What was taking place, beneath all the dead bodies, was a very real attempt to establish a credible and transparent system where none had been before. It will be slow. It is already painful. It’s been side-tracked by the violence, but at least the attempt to change things demonstrates that something was very, very wrong.”
For the complete story in the July 2009 issue, see http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/justice_in_the_rough/.
The ABA Journal covers the trends, people and finances of the legal profession. The flagship publication of the American Bar Association is sent to every ABA member and reaches more than half of the 1.1 million lawyers in this country each month. In addition, its Web site, www.ABAJournal.com is updated every business day with 25 to 50 breaking legal news stories, features, a directory of more than 1,800 legal blogs, and an archive of the full text of the magazine going back through 2004.
With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, and provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.
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