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As an assistant district attorney in the major trials unit of the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, Jerry Teresinski has spent more than a decade putting defendants behind bars. But for most of last year, he spent a good deal of his time ensuring that the rights of the accused were protected. Teresinski, 43, was called to active duty by the Army Reserve in February and spent nearly six months in Iraq, helping the country’s third-largest city, Mosul, re-establish the rule of law after 25 years of Saddam Hussein’s bloody reign. For his efforts, Teresinski received the Bronze Star, which is awarded for either combat heroism or for meritorious service. “Captain Teresinski’s greatest accomplishment is the indelible mark on substantive and procedural due process he had made with the judiciary in the region,” Col. Rich Whitaker wrote in recommending Teresinski for the Bronze Star. “It was the greatest experience of my life,” Teresinski said of his service. “I had the chance to help people. I loved being a soldier, and I enjoyed getting things started so that further change can come there. But it should be known that the real heroes are those who fought and lost their lives, those who are still there and all of their families. And also the people of Iraq for having the courage to seek justice and facilitate change after all those years under Saddam.” Teresinski said the skills sets he obtained from previous careers as a schoolteacher and social worker, combined with 11 years as an ADA, made carrying out his tasks in Iraq much easier. The North Jersey native moved to Philadelphia to attend Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, from which he graduated in 1992 and immediately joined the District Attorney’s Office. One of his colleagues suggested signing up for the JAG corps, but Teresinski wanted to establish himself as a prosecutor first. He worked his way up from the appeals and motions units to his current position in the major trials unit. Among the many cases he has handled was a 1999 RICO case prosecuted in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that included 35 defendants and wound up with numerous convictions on racketeering, burglary and car theft. In the late 1990s, though, Teresinski got the itch to serve — just as his father and uncle had during World War II in the South Pacific. But a married, established prosecutor in his late 30s had limited options. So he received an age waiver due to being in good physical condition and signed up for officer training in the JAG Corps of the Army. He completed three weeks of military training and fulfilled other requirements over the course of a year while maintaining his caseload in the DA’s Office. But for four years, his unit, the 153rd Legal Support Division based in Norristown, was not deployed. When he received his orders last winter, Teresinski was both excited and apprehensive about entering a war zone. After a few months of training in the United States, the eight members of his unit reported to Kuwait in early April, and Teresinski was soon sent to southern Iraq about the time American troops were completing their march to Baghdad. He spent six weeks interviewing Iraqi detainees to determine whether they were innocent civilians. If there was doubt about a detainee’s status, a tribunal would be held. Teresinski often served as a member of the tribunal, tailored to rules from the Geneva Convention. After a week’s break, he received word that the Army’s elite 101st Airborne Division needed a small team of judge advocates and paralegals to create a judicial system for Mosul and its outlying areas. According to Whitaker’s narrative in the Bronze Star recommendation, Teresinski spearheaded the development of a court-appointed attorney program — a new system designed to provide free counsel for indigent Iraqis accused of committing crimes. Starting with a volunteer group of 25 Iraqi attorneys, he trained and certified more than 150 attorneys. The system Teresinski set up in Mosul is expected to be used throughout Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority, Whitaker said. Federal prosecutor Mike Mullaney was one of 13 American lawyers — along with former U.S. district judge and current Blank Rome partner Stephen Orlofsky — sent to Iraq last spring for six weeks as part of a judicial assessment team. After completing that work, he joined forces with Teresinski in Mosul. Mullaney, now chief deputy for counterterrorism in the U.S. Department of Justice, recalled an important moment he shared with Teresinski in July, when the first Iraqi defendant received guaranteed legal counsel through the court-appointed system. Close to 250 lawyers eventually signed up, even though they initially did not receive any pay for their efforts. “A couple of days later, Jerry and I ran into the defense attorney who handled the case,” Mullaney said. “He told us he got his client out [of jail] on bond and had the penalty lowered to a misdemeanor. We congratulated him. But after he walked away, Jerry and I looked at each other and said, What are we so happy about? We’re supposed to be prosecutors, and here we are the driving forces behind protecting the rights of the accused.” After the Coalition Provisional Authority came down with an order that installed American-style due process rights for all suspects accused of committing crimes, Teresinski also “almost single-handedly” implemented them throughout the Nineveh province of Iraq, Whitaker said. These rights provide the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney for all suspects. Teresinski worked to train prosecutors, defense counsel and judges on the application and impact of these rights. The 101st Airborne vetted Baathist judges and lawyers and organized elections through local bar associations to pick new judges. With the framework of a system in place, Teresinski said, one of the important things left was to find work for the large contingent of lawyers in the Mosul region. “There were 3,000 lawyers in Mosul alone,” Teresinski said. “So there were more lawyers than there was work. But that will change as the system really gets going.” Other activities on Teresinski’s agenda were hiring more prosecutors, setting up a centralized booking facility for arraignments, and setting up ethics training for police officers and lawyers. All of this work was accomplished despite having to account for cultural and religious differences with the Iraqis. Teresinski made sure he had a female interpreter and had a female attorney serve as one of his first trainees in an effort to support women’s rights in a region of the world that has not historically done so. And he made sure to conduct meetings with Mosul’s chief prosecutor around the man’s prayer schedule, which occurred five times daily. Working 12-hour days in a place where there were some people — though Teresinski says not a majority — who didn’t want you there, could be emotionally taxing. That’s why he was always uplifted when he received weekly care packages from his wife, Laura, a deputy Philadelphia city solicitor. He also received care packages from his boss, District Attorney Lynne Abraham. “My wife’s letters always lifted my spirits, and it was just great of the district attorney to think of me,” Teresinski said. “[Abraham] sent me an enormous package, and I made sure it got to the troops who were really doing the heavy lifting over there.” Teresinski ended his tour of duty in late October and spent some time at Fort Dix before heading home. Under federal law, he had 90 days to return to work but decided to head back to the District Attorney’s Office on Jan. 5. In the lobby of the DA’s Office for just a few minutes last Friday, Teresinski was greeted by numerous co-workers happy to see him return safely from his mission. But his work may not be done. He heads to the Czech Republic later this year to carry out another training program. And he has not ruled out a return to Iraq, a country for which he has high hopes. “You can’t undo 35 years of turmoil in only a few months,” Teresinski said. “But they’re moving forward. I think there was a learned helplessness. They relied on Saddam for everything for so long. So part of our job was to empower them. I think that’s something we take for granted here. We don’t have memories of family members being taken in the middle of the night by the government. Everyone in Iraq has a story like that to tell. After seeing what I saw, I believe more than ever that this is the greatest country in the world, and I was just so happy to have had the chance to serve.”

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