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June 8, 2009 1:31 PM

Atticus Finch Meets the Khmer Rouge

Posted by Francesca Heintz

Marc Kadish had just graduated law school in 1968 when the Khmer Rouge launched an insurgency that led to its rise to power in Cambodia, culminating in one of the most brutal genocides of the Twentieth Century.

As trial opened in Phnom Penh last month for the first of five party commanders charged with war crimes, Kadish traveled to Cambodia to teach classes on trial advocacy as part of the American Bar Association's Rule of Law Initiative.

The ABA program, now in its fourth year, drew 150 Cambodian law students who came to learn skills like presenting opening arguments and cross-examining witnesses in a system slowly shifting to a more American style of justice. Kadish, director of pro bono activities and litigation training at Mayer Brown, explains what Atticus Finch can teach lawyers working in any country.

What's the legal system like in Cambodia?

As I understand it, it's based on the French system because that's who colonized Cambodia. The system is still somewhat of a Continental inquisitorial system, as they would have in France or Germany, where they have an examining magistrate. However, they seem to be on the cusp of permitting lawyers to play a more active role in trying cases. The ABA has a liaison who works with Cambodian lawyers and law schools and is gradually introducing the adversarial system of justice and training lawyers to make opening statements and closing arguments and question witnesses.

How did you hear about the ABA program?

I met the lawyer who invited me, Steven Austermiller, on a trip to Croatia with my family, and we kept in touch. He moved to Cambodia to run the ABA's rule of law initiative there and he contacted me earlier this year to ask if I would be the outside consultant to an annual two-day program he puts on.

How did the backdrop of the Khmer Rouge trial affect your experience in Cambodia?

I spent my first day visiting the killings fields and the [Tuol Sleng] Genocide Museum to get myself into what I thought was a proper frame of mind for what I was going to undertake because the Khmer Rouge had murdered most of the lawyers in Cambodia. I graduated from law school in 1968 and was active in the antiwar movement so I tried to remember where my consciousness was when all these things were happening. But turns out we didn't have any discussions about the war tribunals during the teaching course.

What did you teach the students about our system of trial advocacy?

My first lecture was on the nature of the adversarial system and showing the students how to do opening statements, closing arguments. and examination of witnesses. Then Mr. Austermiller and I did a simulated drunk driving case. I played the prosecutor and we did openings, closings and I put on one witness. On the second day, the students were assigned to work on a rape case and an aggravated assault. My wife, who is a public defender, was also there and helped critique the students.

You taught criminal law and evidence courses at Kent Law School for 20 years before joining Mayer Brown in 1999. Did you use any of your old teaching tricks?

One of the tools I used was my favorite legal film, To Kill a Mockingbird. I showed parts of the film to demonstrate an injustice that occurred in the American south in the 1930s when a black man was charged with the rape of a white woman. I explained that 75 years ago a black man couldn't get a fair trial in the South even under the adversarial system. But now we have a young African American lawyer who is president. Therefore, things can change and lawyers can be a vehicle for that change.

How did they respond to your lectures?

They seemed enthusiastic. At the end of the two days, every student wanted to have their picture taken with me or Mr. Austermiller. Then they began privately asking questions about how you pick a jury or what a cross-examination looks like. I was very pleased with their enthusiasm and their interest.

All interviews are condensed and edited for style and grammar.

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