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After spending a year helping the Armenian government set up a modern legal system, Joseph J. Traficanti Jr. figured he would show his foreign friends a truly balkanized court structure. So he brought them to Albany on August 2. The former deputy chief administrative judge led a delegation of Armenian court officials on a study tour of the New York courts and the state Legislature. They visited the Albany County Family Court and the state Court of Appeals, chatted with the lieutenant governor’s counsel, discussed the transition from decentralized to centralized court administration and examined the judiciary’s computer operations across the Hudson River in the city of Rensselaer. And they got a chance to view an antiquated court structure that is far more fragmented than anything at home. “I learned [in Armenia] that you can have a very nice, simple structure for your court system and you don’t have to have a complicated one like ours to have a good one,” Traficanti said. “They have a streamlined system that would be the envy of anyone here in New York who is interested in reform.” Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and all of her recent predecessors have sought a constitutional amendment that would modernize a court structure designed in and for a far different era. But the effort fails (largely for political reasons) as often as it comes up, which is about every year. Traficanti retired last year from state court administration and headed to Armenia, where he led a World Bank project to modernize court operations there. He experienced court administration on a shoe-string. The annual budget for the entire Republic of Armenia — the whole government, not just the courts — is about half of the New York court system’s. “They are struggling to build a good democracy, a strong democracy, and included in that is a good court system,” Traficanti said. “There are very difficult hurdles, especially in terms of resources. The budget of the New York state court system is about $1.2 billion. The budget for the entire Republic of Armenia is a little over $500 million.” This week, nine of the Armenian court officials with whom Traficanti worked came to New York State, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development and logistical support from the New York State Judicial Institute in White Plains, N.Y. On August 1, they spent the day with court administrators at the institute. On August 2, they took a road trip to Albany. Before returning to Armenia on August 6, the delegation planned to tour the commercial and criminal courts in Manhattan. At the Capitol, the group received a brief civics lesson from John R. Watson, counsel to Lieutenant Governor Mary O. Donohue, on the workings of a two-house legislature. LESSONS FOR NEW YORK But the visitors were mainly interested in the structure of the courts, both from a hierarchical standpoint and from the perspective of day-to-day operations. Structurally, Traficanti said, the system that evolved after Armenia won its independence 12 years ago offers much for New York to imitate. “The structure of their court system is what we should have in New York — a court of first instance, an appellate court and a high court, and that’s it,” Traficanti said. Arsen Mkrtchyan, a representative of the Armenian chief judicial officer, said through an interpreter, that as a rule, there is not much difference between the courts of his country and New York — except that in Armenia there is more centralization. “Here the structure is more decentralized,” Mkrtchyan said. “But we must take into consideration how small is our country and how big is New York State. We have only 21 courts, so centralized management is more easy.” Arman Khachatryan, director of the Republic of Armenia Council of Court Chairmen — a judicial training center — said training methods employed in Armenia were borrowed from the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev. But he is also picking up tips from the New York Judicial Training Institute. “I can see that we have to do more work,” Khachatryan said, partially in English and partially through a translator. “This is one of the benefits, to see how it is implemented, court management in this state. We hope after our return we can organize the training of the staff to try to use the experience, our American experience, for the modernization of the Armenian courts.” The delegation included representatives of four groups: three pilot courts, the Court of Appeals for Military and Criminal Matters, the Community First Instance Court and the Economic Court, which is similar to New York’s commercial courts. Also included were representatives of the Armenian Council of Court Chairmen, a court-system administrative agency. Traficanti’s participation in the project began with a World Bank rule of law project administered by DPK Consulting, a California-based business consultancy. DPK is working with a local Armenian partner, Ameria Consulting, to re-engineer courts in the capital city of Yerevan. The structural form that evolves is expected to be replicated nationwide. Karine Nikoghosyan, management advisory services assistant for Ameria, said she hopes to harvest from this trip some of New York’s technical innovations. She said the courts in Armenia have a long road to travel in terms of achieving technological parity. “It is rather interesting,” Nikoghosyan said of the court system’s use of even such basic technology as electronic recording of proceedings. “We do not have that much automation.” A similar but more extensive court modernization project is under way in Macedonia, and Traficanti hopes to take part in that effort as well.

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