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Peter Keane likes to joke about the box of cigars he brought back from Cuba for Philip Friedman, president of San Francisco’s Golden Gate University. “He said it was a condition of my employment” as dean at the university’s law school, Keane says. Keane was just one of about 80 lawyers, judges, legal academics and their families who made up a delegation that took a one-and-a-half week trip to Cuba in late January. The trip was approved by the U.S. government. Keane says his group was treated to a full-access visit designed to expose them to the country’s legal system and culture. They hoped to build some bridges. Aside from a canceled group meeting with Fidel Castro, everything went according to schedule, Keane says. He heard the sit-down was called off because of a failed assassination attempt. “It was the 543rd recorded attempt of assassination,” he says. “It’s almost like keeping track of the deficit over here — they keep track of assassination attempts over there.” On the tour, Keane remembers the afternoon he met a three-judge panel arguing about a case concerning a stolen chicken. “They were sitting around with their feet on the table,” Keane says. In Cuba, the crime carries anywhere from a one- to 80-day sentence. Cuba does not allow for juries, instead relying on judicial panels to render verdicts. When Keane left, the judges were still in discussion, with two holding out for a conviction. While touring around the Havana Provincial Courthouse, Keane got an insider’s view of a communist legal system. At the same time, the tour highlighted the effects of the U.S. embargo. “In the courtrooms themselves, there was beat-up old furniture and a typewriter out of the 1930s,” he says. He remembers how children from a local primary school across a gravel yard from the courthouse scampered around the hallways, while judges heard cases in the morning to leave the afternoons free for deliberation. “Nothing was closed for our view. Everything was open for us to see,” says Thomas Nolan, of Palo Alto, Calif.’s Nolan, Armstrong & Barton. “It was fascinating to see how the people survive.” Aside from seeing the ins-and-outs of Cuba’s criminal defense system, Nolan and Keane were struck by Cuba’s poverty and the effects of the United States’ trade policy. For his part, Keane brought bags of Tylenol, children’s medicine, antiseptics and antibiotics to give out. He met a nurse grateful for the needed supplies. “It was like we were giving out gold,” he says. “I thought she was going to fall down.” Keane came away from the trip with more than he hoped for. In addition to the connections he made and the cigars, rum, and artsy trinkets he, his wife, and 16-year-old daughter brought back to the states, they also took home a sense of a country new to them. “They’re first-world people in a third-world country,” he says. “They don’t have anything, but they’d give you everything they have.”

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