- Associated Press - Sunday, March 9, 2014

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - David Soares was honored to receive the chance to provide service to his country of birth, Cape Verde.

“It was an incredible honor and I have just been so impressed with the enthusiasm that I have been seeing in that government and through their leaders,” said Soares, who is a district attorney in Albany County, N.Y.

In January 2013, Soares traveled to the islands of Cape Verde off the coast of eastern Africa with Justice Lubbie Harper of New Haven and lawyer Joseph Moniz of Hartford, to work with legal colleagues there. The project began in 1993 when Moniz first began working with the country, but Soares said much still needs to be done to improve the legal system of the country, and another trip is planned for April.

“We were not going as Americans … to impart our great wisdom on the people there,” Soares said. “We took a very practical and sensible approach: to learn from one another.”

“Our system has taken hundreds of years to form and develop and we have our own imperfections,” he said.

The three were invited by the Cape Verde Minister of Justice Jose Carlos Correia to come and spend time working with the court system. During their time there, the three found an immense backlog of cases that added up to more than 90,000. Moniz, whose family also is from Cape Verde, had already worked with the country to revamp the court system to model it after Connecticut’s three-tier system, but Harper said something needed to be done regarding the buildup of backlogged cases.

For Soares, working with such a young country - only having attained its independence 39 years ago - is an exceptional opportunity.

Cape Verde is experiencing an incredible renaissance and it is a young country under a leadership which is very intelligent and progressive,” Soares said. It’s heartening “to see a nation that is so young and so hopeful despite economic challenges that so many of its citizens are experiencing.”

Moniz had been invited by Correia in 1993 to visit various courts and help redesign the structure of the judicial system. Moniz said a plan was submitted in May 1993 based on Connecticut’s system, which includes a supreme appellate court and lower court.

“The constitutional amendment needed to adopt the suggested changes wasn’t completed until February 2011,” Moniz said. “Things move slow here.”

Moniz said it was one of the best experiences of his professional life. When he was asked to submit a name of a judge and prosecutor to be a part of the next step of the project, Moniz said the decision was easy.

Justice Harper Jr. and I have known each other for over 30 years… his name came to mind immediately,” Moniz said.

Moniz and Soares had known each other as well.

The three were invited to attend a conference in January 2013 and following their presentations, the three were asked to help improve the process of disposing criminal cases.

“What blew their mind was the whole concept of a plea bargain,” Harper said.

Because of a backlog of 90,000 cases, “they got excited and wanted to know if we could see if it worked with them,” Harper said.

Harper said to do so, they should also implement a community court system.

In order to really give their Cape Verde legal colleagues a feel for how the plea bargain and community court works, Harper and Moniz organized a trip for the Cape Verdeans to the U.S. in October 2013.

“It is unfair to invite three northeasterners to a tropical island for a week and the best we can do is have them come in the month of October,” Soares joked. “(But) it is beautiful in the fall and having them here was very special to us.”

The delegation had a welcome reception in Hartford before traveling to Albany to tour the county judicial center court with Soares. The group traveled back to Connecticut to watch a few judicial court judges in action in New Haven. They also visited the United States District Court in New Haven and Hartford Superior Court as well as a visit to a community court session in the capital city.

“We wanted to extend the same courtesy and gratitude given to us, and Justice Harper and Joe Moniz in Connecticut went all out to demonstrate their appreciation in creating the agenda there,” Soares said.

Moniz recently returned from a trip to the islands and met with President Jorge Fonseca, who endorsed the trio’s next trip to the islands in April. Moniz said they will continue their work demonstrating the plea bargaining process.

Harper said they are hoping to bring more judges and attorneys from here the next time they go over to help with the project. The six delegates from Cape Verde who came here will be instrumental in the training process back in Cape Verde, Harper said.

“If the model is successful, we will begin to replicate it in the nine inhabited islands,” Harper said.

“This is not something that is going to happen overnight and it is going to take some time to put the strategy together, as well as one that works for them,” Soares said.

This type of relationship is one that could be applied in other countries.

“I think they (Cape Verde delegates) try to dispense justice with compassion and that is something we should all take into consideration,” Harper said.

For Soares, he said this experience is one that was unique and close to his heart.

“It was extremely emotional and I don’t think I have ever committed myself to something as much as I have committed to this on an intellectual and emotional level,” Soares said. “It is the country of my birth and I have always grown up listening to my father and mother extoll on the virtues of the country.”

Soares said he was stunned by the close relationship of the leaders to their people.

“In the U.S., you are never going to walk into the president in the park or see the minister of the Department of Justice head into a restaurant, greeting you as you enjoy a cup of coffee in the center of town,” Soares said.

Soares said he thinks the template for change could be applied to other countries.

“This, for us it seems, is the beginning of an ongoing working relationship, and I say this because the use of technology and the world is (so linked) now that I am still sending information and material to our partners overseas,” Soares said. “This is the beauty of what is happening with fairly young governments with enthusiastic leadership and forward-thinking leadership that they are looking to other nations to share information.”

Franklin Afonso Furtado, a lawyer in Cape Verde, said that this relationship is something important not only for the judicial system but the legal system’s delegates.

“At the heart of any flourishing democracy,” said Soares, “has to be transparency opportunities for you to be able to venture off into another country for some kind of exchange program. In the end, you appreciate home . it reignites the passion for the system you are working in.”

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Information from: New Haven Register, https://www.nhregister.com


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