PROFILE: JUDGE TRAFICANTI SERVES AS CONSULTANT TO ARMENIAN JUSTICE SYSTEM
By Anita Womack-Weidner
|Joseph J. Traficanti Jr., the former Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for the Courts Outside New York City, left the United States in May 2004 to aid Eastern European countries in developing their judicial infrastructure. On a visit back home during his one-year term in Armenia, Traficanti said it is he who has learned valuable life lessons from the Armenian community.
Judge Joseph J. Traficanti Jr., left, stands outside of an Armenian courthouse under renovation with Armenian Chief Judge Tigran Sahakyan
"I had a career crossroads," said Traficanti. "I found myself really interested in wanting to learn about different cultures," he said. Traficanti had traveled abroad, but had never lived in another country.
A call from DPK Consulting - a firm based in San Francisco that provides technical, management and advisory services to foreign governments and civil society organizations - offered him a chance to combine his profession with his newfound desires. DPK Consulting had been awarded a World Bank project in Armenia to re-engineer procedures in three civil and commercial law pilot courts in the capital city of Yerevan, to help introduce modern case-processing systems and a new organizational structure, which in part would speed up case processing. Traficanti was asked to head the project that would help establish and strengthen productive relationships between state and society and develop sustainable government and judicial systems that are responsive, transparent, accountable, fair and efficient. So Traficanti and his wife, Gretchen, packed up and moved to Armenia.
"I thought this was a good opportunity to experience international consulting," said Traficanti. "Armenia is a newly-independent state, having been part of the Soviet Union for 70 years. The country has a high literacy rate - in the upper 90th percentile. Armenians are a strong people, determined people." Armenia, located just east of Turkey, is slightly smaller than the state of Maryland. The official languages of the country are Armenian and Russian. There are over three million residents in the country, which is a land bridge between Asia and Europe. Traficanti said he was impressed with the strong Armenian family structure, the rich history of the country, and its religious and cultural institutions. "There are no drugs on the street. You won't see any stoned kids wandering around. They value education. There's no misbehaving in school, and family means everything." Armenians value culture and art. The country has art museums, an opera house and a philharmonic hall. All of the arts are subsidized so most citizens can afford to
experience them. Even a topnotch philharmonic concert may cost only $3.
In contrast, many residents of the Armenian capital have electricity for only one to two hours a day. People were used to having heat, but resources and money became so scarce that people were pulling up their parquet floors to burn them for fuel. The cost of living is low, but so are the wages. A chief court clerk makes $70 a month. A policeman earns $50 a month. Judges just received raises and saw their salaries grow from $250 to $500 a month. In addition, the legacy of corruption from the Soviet era produced an overall lack of trust in the government. Traficanti is hoping that the work he is doing will help change that.
"This country has been through many centuries of occupation, suppression and genocide," said Traficanti. "Armenia is a highly industrialized republic which provided military supplies, computers, software and diamonds to other countries. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, the market evaporated, and the country went from full to 50 percent employment."
Traficanti has found the work "fulfilling, professionally and personally. I can apply some of the experience I learned in New York." From 1991 until May 2004, Judge Traficanti was responsible for overseeing the operation and administration of the trial courts outside New York City. That position placed him in charge of court operations in 57 counties, 61 cities and 1,100 towns and villages. ages.
"They [Armenians and their government] are where we were 25 years ago in terms of [court] culture and automation. In a sense, I had a dry run for this job working in New York." When asked how much change could be accomplished with a one-year project, Traficanti replied:
"This is a short-term project, and as a result, we will only be able to plant seeds. We are building a prototype in three pilot courts. If successful there, the republic will replicate our work around the rest of Armenia."
Traficanti left Yerevan in May and will hopefully sign up for another assignment in another country. Traficanti said he feels good about the work he's doing. "You know that button you press on the computer that says refresh? Well, I feel like I've refreshed my life."
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