Chris Lehmann – American Justice is Still a Model for the World – But a Flawed Model




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Jan 15, 2018
by Oscar Tollast
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Chris Lehmann – American Justice is Still a Model for the World – But a Flawed Model

Executive director of the Central and East Europe Law reflects on US justice system Chris Lehmann in conversation at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association

Chris Lehmann, executive director of the Central and East Europe Law Institute (CEELI), is inspired to improve the world and spread justice. Speaking at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), he says, “My father was an Episcopal priest, and I think he just had a very clear idea of what was right and wrong. I think you can either spend your life trying to make the world a better place or not.”

Lehmann’s decision to attend the 15th SSASA symposium – Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration – was in part thanks to Salzburg Global Program Director Charles Ehrlich. Lehmann says, “Charles has been up to Prague several times to my Institute and had been wanting to get me down here, which I was eager to do. This session seemed particularly relevant, partly because there would be quite a bit of focus on transatlantic legal issues –, European perspectives of America –, but with a lot of that focus being on our criminal justice system. So, it was kind of a perfect fit for me.”

The CEELI Institute, based in Prague, was established to advance the rule of law in the world. Lehmann, who previously worked for the US Department of Justice, has served as its executive director since 2014. The Institute works with judges and lawyers from around the world on matters relating to comparative law, judicial issues, and human rights. Reflecting on justice in the US, Lehmann says, “The US, obviously, in some ways continues to be a model for the rest of the world, but it is a very flawed model.”

Lehmann highlights the “extensive use of plea bargaining” and “police issues” as two areas in the US that require further attention. His hope in attending this symposium was to see how others around the world viewed these issues, which would help him assess where the US is today, whether the country still  has a system viewed as worth emulating.

As of September, Lehmann believes this view is a “very mixed bag.” He says. “There are theoretical aspects of the US justice system which continue to be aspirational, but I think there are some deep flaws that are making a lot of people in Europe skeptical of US solutions.”

The CEELI Institute is based at the Villa Grébovka, a historic building that dates back to 1871. The Institute was founded in 1999 and has provided post-graduate legal education and exchange to more than 5,000 legal professionals. Lehmann says the Institute has found it very valuable to bring people together for several days and allow them to step out of their lives and focus on the topic at hand.

Noting the similarity with Salzburg Global Seminar, Lehman says, “I think you’ve recognized that some of the best discussions go on at the coffee hours, at the meals, and in the evenings, and in strolling around the parks. It’s not just what takes place in the sessions.

“If you go to a conference somewhere at a hotel, you don’t necessarily have quite that sense of convening. There’s just a huge value to a serene setting like this. It puts people at ease, it relaxes them, and it just allows this sort of dawn till dusk conversation to go on in and out of formal settings.

“There are lots of different learning styles. Some people will be on their feet in the classroom, and there are other people that are much more comfortable having a quiet conversation over a cup of coffee after the session is over. This really enables everybody to kind of be drawn into the discussion.”

Chris Lehmann was a participant of the Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.