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Hillsborough courtroom turns into classroom for visiting Russian judges

Through an interpreter, Hillsborough County sheriff’s Deputy Raymond Sanchez, left, explains the tools he carries to do his job as a bailiff in the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse to a group of judges and law professors visiting from Russia.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Through an interpreter, Hillsborough County sheriff’s Deputy Raymond Sanchez, left, explains the tools he carries to do his job as a bailiff in the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse to a group of judges and law professors visiting from Russia.

TAMPA

In his 31 years, Cotrell Farrington has been arrested 16 times, accused of everything from cocaine possession to aggravated assault. But this is the first time he has faced serious prison time — from 10 years to life — for armed robbery.

It's also the first time he has faced not just an American judge, but three stern-looking judges from that other St. Petersburg, the one founded by a tsar, the one in Russia.

None spoke English, but the Russian judges listened to the tail end of Farrington's jury trial at the Hillsborough County Courthouse on Tuesday in whispered Russian through translation ear pieces.

Farrington's trial was a bit of a classroom for the three Russian judges and two law academics who came to try to understand how judges in America do it.

Back in Russian St. Petersburg, they do it a bit differently. If Farrington had been tried for robbery in Russia, he would not have faced a jury. Juries are reserved for only the most serious cases. If convicted in Russia, Farrington would face possibly a lighter sentence — eight to 20 years.

Another big difference: No matter what he did, he would not face the death penalty. Although there is a death penalty on the Russian law books, no one has been executed there for years.

The Russian jurists were brought to Tampa under the auspices of the Open World Program, an initiative established by Congress to expose politicians, judges and civic leaders to systems in other countries.

Their hosts for the week are Stetson University and U.S. Magistrates Elizabeth Jenkins and Anthony Porcelli.

Circuit Judge Debra Behnke fed them dinner at her beach house Sunday and served as their guide Tuesday.

During a recess in the Farrington trial, William Fuente, the presiding judge, put the Russians in the jury box, took off his robe and tried to explain the American way of justice.

The accused are presumed innocent.

The same in Russia?

"Of course," said Yevgeniy Shumakov, the one criminal court judge in the group.

Fuente explained that out of every thousand suspects charged with a crime, only 100 go to trial. Most either plead guilty or go free. Nine out of 10 who face trial need a public defender.

Shumakov had the most questions. How long does someone wait to see a judge after an arrest? (24 hours.)

How long can incarceration last before trial? (There's a speedy trial rule, but it's often waived for strategic reasons. In one rare case, trial occurred four years after arrest.)

Judge Fuente asked them if they wanted to visit the jail.

"We'd rather go fishing," one judge said.

• • •

They did want to see the holding cells and jury room. They also asked a bailiff to demonstrate his Taser, which he did — pointed at the ground, not them.

In the jury room, their guide, Judge Behnke, explained that each judge has his or her own way of doing things. Fuente, she noted, likes to order lunch for his juries. Fuente promised the Farrington jury lunch today before members start deliberations.

Not Behnke.

"I starve my juries," she told the Russians.

"It's so much quicker."

Hillsborough courtroom turns into classroom for visiting Russian judges 03/29/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 11:37pm]
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