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VOL. 129 | NO. 51 | Friday, March 14, 2014

Rardin Takes Trial Advocacy Training to Liberia

By Bill Dries

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Assistant Shelby County District Attorney General Kevin Rardin is leaving for Liberia next month for a week of trial advocacy training in the African nation.


For Rardin it is his latest venture in parts of the world with different criminal justice systems or systems that are just forming.

“I’ve always been interested in this sort of thing. I got interested in it way back in the ’90s when I found out the American Bar Association was looking for people to review draft criminal laws for the countries of the former Soviet Union in the Warsaw Pact,” he said. “I did that for several years.”

Rardin has also raised money for computer equipment for the International Criminal Tribunal hearing war crime allegations in the break up of what was once Yugoslavia.

As a U.S. Army Reserve officer, his recent tour of duty in Afghanistan was as a legal adviser to the commander of the U.S. training mission in southern Afghanistan.

“I was a mentor to my counterparts in the Afghan army, the Afghan military judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys,” Rardin said. “I was with them five days a week and I really enjoyed it. I loved it. I found that I perhaps have a talent for doing that sort of work.”

He is going to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, for a week next month, as part of the international nonprofit group Lawyers Without Borders.

“We are going to be training some Liberian lawyers in trial advocacy using a human trafficking scenario, which I think will be interesting for them and us,” Rardin said. “That’s a global problem. It’s a problem in Memphis and it’s certainly a problem in Liberia.”

Rardin, who marks 30 years as a prosecutor in August, brings a unique perspective to the Lawyers Without Borders delegation, which includes three U.S. federal judges, two English attorneys and several of what he termed “whiz kids,” or lawyers whose work is more in academia.

“I’m hoping that this will build on some of what I’ve done in the past. I know I’ve certainly learned a lot of new things as well,” he said of finding ways to cross cultural barriers in areas where legal institutions and other civic structures have been destroyed by prolonged warfare.

In Liberia’s case it is two civil wars that stretched from 1989 to 2003.

“The U.N. is there. There are U.N. soldiers and U.N. police officers to back up and train the Liberian police and army. After all of these years of horror, they seem to be making progress and are on the upswing. I hope so, anyway,” Rardin said. “It’s a limited amount of time. But one of the things I would like to know, if the opportunity presents itself, is how did these people survive all those years? That may be a very sensitive subject. … But how did they survive? How did they keep things going? How did they maintain at least some semblance of legal order?”

Liberia emerged from the civil wars to elect Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as its president.

Sirleaf was in Memphis in 2007 to accept the Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum. She is currently serving her second term as president of the republic after winning re-election in 2011. She is also a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The story of Sirleaf’s election and the rise of a women’s movement that brought an end to the civil war intersects with another part of the nation’s narrative that has included a reconciliation process similar to the one in post-apartheid South Africa. The process involves child soldiers as well as the conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor by an International Criminal Court on charges that include abetting rape on a widespread basis during the civil war.

“I would guess that given that their war lasted so very long,” Rardin said, “the idea of a functioning relatively fair legal system was a pretty novel concept for many of the young people in Liberia.”

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