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VOL. 123 | NO. 86 | Thursday, May 1, 2008

Middle Eastern Visitors Get Look At Memphis Law System

By Bill Dries

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TALK OF THE TOWN: Afghan Judge Hayatullah Ahadyar, center, is called a "pioneer" by the Egyptian judge who is his mentor. Ahadyar was part of a delegation from several Middle East countries in Memphis last week to talk with Memphis judges and attorneys about intellectual property issues. -- Photo By Bill Dries

Saud y Al Sanea has seen temptation in the form of an iPod. It's not the iPod itself. The temptation is the card needed to upload music from iTunes to fill the iPod.

It can take two weeks to get one of the cards in Kuwait City where he is a public prosecutor at Kuwait's Ministry of Justice. But you can buy a knock-off version on the streets and some stores of Kuwait City much sooner.

It's not an option for Al Sanea. Intellectual property violations are among the crimes he prosecutes.

Al Sanea was one of two dozen judges and prosecutors from 10 Middle East countries who included a two-day visit to Memphis last week in a national tour arranged by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

"They sell (iPods) in Kuwait but you are not able to download songs. When a Kuwaiti guy goes to a shop and gets an iPod, he must download something in it. ... I think some people do it because it's cheaper," Al Sanea said. "You can get a DVD for $1. And the problem is when the minority sees the majority buy those, they say why should they get it for $15. In Kuwait, we are fighting these crimes. I don't think you can see people selling copies everywhere, like a long time ago."

The Memphis stop included time to talk with Memphis judges and attorneys and compare notes. The group met with U.S. District Court Judge Bernice Donald, who served as their host. Other judges included Circuit Court Judge Robert Childers, Probate Court Judge Robert Benham, Criminal Court Judge John Fowlkes, General Sessions Civil Court Judges Phyllis Gardner and Deborah Henderson and Chancellor Walter Evans. Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC shareholder and Tennessee Bar Association President-Elect Buck Lewis also welcomed the group.

Country comparisons

Al Sanea said he looks at intellectual property cases as consumer fraud. He acknowledged that Kuwaiti consumers are familiar with the experience of watching a bootlegged DVD with the ubiquitous people walking in front of the movie screen that is a sign of video of a movie as it was shown in a theater.

He was surprised to find intellectual property violations were felonies in some cases. He also had some difficulty with law enforcement agencies investigating such cases.

"The prosecutors (in the U.S.) do not investigate the crimes. In Kuwait, we do the investigation ourselves. ... I think that way gives us more information about why people do the crimes," Al Sanea said.

He and the visiting judges also had some difficulty grasping the many levels of the Tennessee judicial system and the division of civil from criminal. Fowlkes explained, "It doesn't matter if it's complicated or not. ... Complicated is not the criteria."

Benham explained Probate Court cases involving administrators for the business affairs of the elderly.

"Older people are revered in your cultures," he said. "Unfortunately, they aren't always in ours."

Adversaries but friends

There were some common themes at the meeting held at Baker Donelson's offices that included a justice from Yemen's Supreme Court.

Justice Jaafer Saeed Ali Suliman Bahisamy asked how complaints are filed against judges. Childers and Fowlkes explained the various avenues with no mention of the complaint Lewis has made to the Court of the Judiciary about Evans' handling of a civil case.

Under those rules no one involved can comment on any aspect - even whether a complaint has been filed. No one did.

As the group arrived, Lewis and Evans greeted each other cordially.

"We're friends. But when we go into the courtroom we're professionals," Gardner told the visitors at the outset of the discussion.

Hossam Helal, an Egyptian judge, asked about the problems the Memphis judges face. Later he said he could relate to the complaints about old and crowded facilities and the pay.

He also noted that for some of the judges in the visiting delegation there are literally life and death concerns they deal with every time they are on the bench. Helal resigned his judgeship in Egypt after 20 years. For almost three years, he has been a legal adviser and project manager with the International Development Law Organization. He lives and works in Kabul, Afghanistan.

"It is a new experience. They are starting from scratch," he said. "Some judges in Afghanistan don't feel secure about their own lives."

Blazing trails

With Helal on the American tour is a new judge, Hayatullah Ahadyar, whom Helal described as "a pioneer."

Ahadyar is modest about his transition from journalist to law student to judge on the Afghan Primary Commercial Court. He is not modest about the impact of the court and legal system on a country left with few stable civic institutions after 30 years of war.

"That was my first goal. ... That will be the new future for Afghanistan - to build our country back in each sector - to be equal with other Arab countries," he said when asked why he chose to become a judge.

Ahadyar said the cases involving intellectual property are vital to Afghanistan's survival because they are the basis of a stable economic structure.

Helal said observing and enforcing the standards are key to the stability of the country once he and other legal advisers as well as U.S. troops leave Afghanistan.

"The only chance for an undeveloped country is intellectual property," he said. "This is the only solution for our country to build it's own economy. Right now the international community is helping Afghanistan. What will happen after five years? The only solution is IP."

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