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VOL. 125 | NO. 161 | Thursday, August 19, 2010

Memphians Share Legal Expertise with Thai Delegation

By Bill Dries

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Chancellor Arnold Goldin began a talk last week to a group in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald with a joke.

“You might have heard about our elections,” Goldin said.

He was speaking to a delegation of 17 judges, attorneys and other officials from Thailand visiting Memphis as part of a series of international exchanges arranged and promoted by the U.S. Patent Office.

The delegation included Thai judges and attorneys and representatives from the Thai embassy in Washington.

Goldin was having a bit of fun at the expense of his colleague, Chancellor Walter Evans. Earlier in the week, Evans had held a hearing in the dispute about the Aug. 5 election results.

Goldin was illustrating the kind of cases heard in Chancery Court.

“I think Chancellor Goldin has covered the waterfront,” Evans said as he found a few more legal concepts to explain, like pro se cases. “In our system, a person has a right to represent themselves.”

State criminal appeals court judge Camille McMullan also talked with the delegation about how appellate courts work.

The delegation, like one from several Middle Eastern countries in 2008, included judges from supreme courts as well as judges who preside over courts that deal exclusively with intellectual property cases and issues.

“There are multinational (corporations) all over the world and we’re seeing the same litigants,” Donald said. “We speak different languages but we are all committed to one thing – the cause of justice.”

The group of jurists, local and visiting, talked over lunch in a jury assembly room with a bird’s eye view of the Pyramid gleaming under the noon sun. A few of the Thai judges confessed that they were Elvis fans, and one judge had been to Memphis 16 years earlier on a similar visit.

Several were curious about the process of electing judges.

“My term?” Donald asked in response. “Life,” she answered with hands folded.

“I ran for my position,” Evans answered when asked about his path to the bench. “I unseated an incumbent who had been serving for 16 years.”

“You are always the high point,” Peter Fowler of the U.S. Patent Office said of the Memphis visit.

Because the legal systems are different, the visitors and their hosts usually discuss much broader topics including how judges are selected, their terms and where their authority begins and ends.

“We interpret our mission very broadly,” Fowler said. “We use intellectual property as a vehicle to have experts address those issues.”

The Memphis judges they heard from had to explain the civil and criminal dividing line for cases several times.

Donald and U.S. Magistrate Tu Pham were part of a U.S. delegation that visited Cambodia recently for similar exchange programs in Phnom Penh.

Memphis attorneys who work in the intellectual property field have been traveling abroad and hosting visitors from other countries for years.

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