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VOL. 125 | NO. 53 | Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rardin Connects Afghan Lawyers With W&L Law School

By Rebekah Hearn

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Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Rardin

Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Rardin spoke Wednesday in Lexington, Va., at his alma mater, Washington and Lee University School of Law. Rardin’s speech, “Afghanistan and Rule of Law,” was sponsored by the Middle East and North Africa Law Society.

Rardin is a 1984 graduate of Washington and Lee’s law school. A U.S. Army reservist, Rardin went on active duty from October 2007 to October 2008 to serve as Command Judge Advocate to the U.S. military at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. He also was a legal mentor to the judge advocates in the Afghan Army’s 205th Corps.

Upon returning to the U.S., Rardin convinced Washington and Lee University School of Law to take two Afghan lawyers, M. Asif Ehsan and Sebghatullah Ebrahimi, into its Master of Laws (L.L.M.) program without charging the students tuition.

Rardin has been an assistant district attorney in Memphis for 25 years. He also is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

Q: What topics did you touch on during your speech at Washington and Lee?

A: I talked about my experiences as a command judge advocate at Kandahar Airfield and my work with the lawyers in the Afghan Army’s Fifth Corps. I tried to convey something of the Afghan people’s dignity and hospitality, and I also did my best to describe the stark beauty of southern Afghanistan. I talked about Afghanistan’s rich history and the current conflict (and) the three competing Afghan legal systems: the governmental system, the customary law codes of the nation’s tribes and Sharia law as interpreted by the Taliban.

I talked about the drug trade in Afghanistan, and the threat public corruption poses to the rule of law. I offered some suggestions as to how tribal customary law and the Kabul government’s legal code could be reconciled. Finally, I talked to the students about the importance of serving something bigger than one’s own desires, and I talked about the rewards of putting your life on the line for your ideals.

Q: Can you discuss why you decided to pursue further education for Afghan law students?

A: To answer this question, I have to tell you about Mohammed Wazir Jallali. I met Mr. Jallali the week of Thanksgiving, 2007, when I rode to Zabul Province to do an assessment of the civilian criminal justice institutions there. Mr. Jallali was the provincial chief prosecutor, or “Saranwal,” for Zabul. I told him that I was a saranwal in the U.S., and we talked in his adobe-walled office over tea. His security detail, armed with AK-47 rifles, ringed the little building. Because of his work as a prosecutor, he had been the recipient of numerous “night letters,” threatening him and his family with death. His enemies had recently attempted to make good on their threats. Mr. Jallali was not injured, but one of his guards was shot in the leg. He told me that the provincial governor often attempted to interfere in pending criminal cases, and sometimes succeeded. The governor had recently asked Mr. Jallali to release three politically connected defendants charged with murder. To his great credit, Mr. Jallali refused the governor’s request, placing his life in jeopardy yet again. Mr. Jallali had one computer in his office, but it was broken. Most of the recordkeeping was done by hand.

On the day I left Zabul Province to return to my Army duties in Kandahar, Mr. Jallali asked if I could stay and help him in improving the work of his office. I was moved. There was little difference between the two of us. We were both saranwals. We were both men with families. However, I had so much, and he had so little. I had to do something. I explained that I could not stay, but I promised that I would ask for help. I gave my word, and I began to think hard about how I could make good on my promise.

Q: How did you approach Washington and Lee’s faculty about accepting Ehsan and Ebrahimi into its L.L.M. program?

A: I met a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul who told me about the U.S. State Department’s recently launched Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan. As part of the program, the State Department was looking for American law schools to take Afghan lawyers into their L.L.M. programs in American law. I knew that my alma mater, W&L Law, had an L.L.M. program. I sent the dean of W&L Law, Rod Smolla, an e-mail from my office at Kandahar Airfield. I told Dean Smolla about Mr. Jallali, and I asked for help. Dean Smolla responded immediately and committed W&L to the cause.

Over the next year and a half, we worked out the details. … The State Department provided funding to cover the two students’ living expenses. The tuition waiver was critical in my mind, because the only Afghans who could afford W&L’s tuition would probably be corrupt. … More law schools and law firms should do the same. After all, money is a small matter compared to what some Americans have given in Afghanistan.

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