Mongolians observe Maui court as they reform their own system

WAILUKU – Eight prosecutors from Mongolia are on Maui to learn about the U.S. judicial system and observe 2nd Circuit Court proceedings, as their country looks toward judicial reform.

“It’s an exciting time in Mongolia,” said Assistant Prosecutor General Ganzorig Gombosuren of the Office of the Prosecutor General in Mongolia. “We’re writing a new history of Mongolia.”

As part of continuing democratic changes in the isolated Central Asian country bordered by Russia and China, officials are working on judicial reform, restructuring police and prosecution departments as well as the courts, Ganzorig said.

“In order to do this, we need to educate people,” Ganzorig said. “We need to change the past.”

He said some elements of change may be drawn from the U.S. system, which most of the Mongolian prosecutors are experiencing for the first time this week. In addition to watching courtroom proceedings, the prosecutors attended a seminar on the Maui prosecutor’s office presented by Prosecuting Attorney John D. Kim.

The Office of the Prosecutor General in Mongolia is roughly the equivalent of the attorney general’s office in the United States, Ganzorig said. He and two of the visiting prosecutors are from the capitol city of Ulan Bator, while the others are from provincial areas of the country.

After watching court hearings Tuesday, the Mongolian prosecutors had many questions, including why a finding of guilt and sentencing of a defendant are often done at separate hearings, Ganzorig said.

He said that the prosecutors have been learning about a defendant’s Miranda rights to remain silent and not have to testify against himself or herself.

“I think in America, everybody knows what is the Miranda rule,” Ganzorig said. “But in Mongolia, that’s not the case. Not many people would know they have constitutional rights when they first meet a policeman. So we have to explain the rights.

“We’re trying to borrow something like Miranda rules, which would promote and protect human rights. There are different good things in the United States system we’re trying to borrow and put in Mongolian law.”

Ganzorig said that the country is trying to establish an office like the public defender’s office to help defendants who can’t afford to hire a lawyer.

In developing a new penal code and criminal procedure code for Mongolia, the goal is to “promote human rights, protect court rights and provide justice for citizens of Mongolia,” Ganzorig said.

Retired 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Shackley Raffetto, who is hosting the Mongolian prosecutors and arranged for the training, said it was an opportunity for them “to learn how modern prosecutors in a free and democratic society operate.”

Unlike the U.S. system, which allows the defense to request police investigative reports as part of discovery in a criminal prosecution, “it doesn’t work that way in Mongolia,” Raffetto said. He said an investigation isn’t done until just before trial.

“They had a nice constitution that said things, but in reality you couldn’t take advantage of it,” Raffetto said.

He said that the Mongolian prosecutors wear military uniforms and have ranks.

Raffetto, who has traveled to Mongolia and participated in training programs for Mongolian judges and government officials, got to know Ganzorig in the late 1990s when he was the first “court observer” in Raffetto’s program that brought officials from other countries to the Maui courtroom. As part of the two-week program, Ganzorig wore a black robe and sat next to Raffetto on the bench during a jury trial.

At the time, Ganzorig was a judge on the Supreme Court of Mongolia.

Later, he spent more than 10 years in the United States before returning to Mongolia three years ago, at first serving as legal adviser to the president.

Raffetto said Ganzorig is “very well placed in Mongolia to help and influence the development of democratic institutions for his country.”

“We have remained in contact, and we have been good friends,” Raffetto said.

After arriving Saturday on Maui, prosecutors from the landlocked country went to the beach for the first time. The group will leave this afternoon for Honolulu, where they will meet with state Attorney General David Louie and Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald.

Photographer Ray Mains is documenting the Mongolian prosecutors’ visit.

In addition to proposing code amendments that would provide more rights for defendants, Ganzorig said that he wants to see a special division created in the Mongolian prosecutor’s office to bring civil lawsuits against companies or individuals who have violated public law in Mongolia. Among them are foreign companies that have polluted air, water and land through mining without doing restoration, Ganzorig said.

The democratic changes have come to Mongolia since the fall of the Soviet Union, which left the country free from Soviet communist domination.

“This change is ongoing now,” Ganzorig said. “Reform can’t be done overnight. We expect 10 years, 15 years. It will take a longer time to establish a smooth justice system.

“It’s a challenging time, but it’s a very interesting time in Mongolia.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at