Sherif Osama Abdalla Atta, a prosecutor in Egypt, didn't waste any time with the man who sat down at his table for lunch: U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer.
Atta had plenty of questions. Questions about plea bargaining. Questions on the role of the FBI. Questions about search warrants.
"It's called checks and balances," said Ferrer, explaining how a prosecutor must go through channels to obtain a search warrant.
This was the type of exchange organizers hoped for when five members of the Egyptian legal community visited South Florida as part of a program sponsored by the Miami Council for International Visitors.
The visit by judges and attorneys comes at a time of great change in their country following the Arab Spring, the deaths of more than 800 in a year of civil unrest and president Hosni Mubarak's ouster and trial after 30 years of rule.
The judges said the changes in their country have not greatly affected the judicial system except for a few weeks when the courts closed. They said the biggest effect was a backlog of cases due to the shutdown.
Instead, the Egyptian delegation, in answering questions from a luncheon crowd of South Florida attorneys and judges Friday, ended up emphasizing the similarities, not the differences, between the American and Egyptian judicial systems.
The differences included a lack of a grand jury system. Prosecutors in Egypt investigate and determine criminal charges.
Another difference is Egypt has no jury system. Misdemeanors are heard by a single judge at first and by a panel of three judges on a second level. Felonies are heard in criminal court by three judges.
Similarities include a judicial system governed by a constitution that creates an independent judiciary, a separate juvenile court, a high bar for the prosecution to prove a crime and a system for appointing attorneys for all criminal defendants.
The Egyptians spoke at an invitation-only lunch at the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Federal Courthouse in Miami. Earlier in the day, they visited the Dade County Courthouse to witness proceedings and participated in a round table where they heard from an American prosecutor, federal public defender and private attorneys.
Khurrum Wahid, a Miami defense attorney and member of the council, said the United States is still the standard bearer for the world when it comes to judicial systems.
That said, he didn't pulling any punches with his visitors.
"We are not here to be a cheerleader for everything America. We're here to tell you the good, the bad and the ugly," said Wahid, a partner at Wahid Vizcaino in Pompano Beach, Fla.
Most of the contingent spoke English as a second language, and some questions had to be asked twice. One such question came from Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Joseph Farina, who asked Ahmed Ahmed Mahaba, a judge at Damanhur Primary Court, how Sharia law governs family court in Egypt. He said decisions are an amalgamation of civil law in accordance with Sharia, the Muslim moral code.
One hot topic not addressed: the decision by Egyptian authorities to prosecute 19 American workers, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, for allegedly assisting protest groups by funneling money to them.
Another topic not discussed was how a panel of Egyptian judges appointed by the military leaders disqualified three of the most popular as well as divisive candidates for the election to replace Mubarak.
Appellate Judge Tarek Mohamed Youssef, who serves on Egypt's high court, said the regime change had little effect on the judiciary.
"Nothing important happened," he said.
Atta said the emphasis is not on prosecuting those involved in the uprising but compensating residents and business owners who sustained property damage.
Judge Ahmed Ahmed Mahaba said one change has been that more than 30 female judges have joined the bench in recent years.
"It's a new experience for us," he said.
But then he chuckled and added how much hard work it is to be a judge.
"We are trying to make the women more comfortable," he said.
Attendees included U.S. District Judges Cecilia Altonaga, Donald Graham and Ursula Ungaro; Senior U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler; and Senior U.S. Magistrate Judges Peter Palermo and Barry Garber.