Last month, NITA sent seven faculty members to Nigeria in support of an advocacy training program organized by the Office of the Public Defender of Lagos State in the Ministry of Justice. J.C. Lore joined NITA colleagues Judge Ann Claire Williams, Judge Michael Washington, Judge Debra Seaton (Chinaka), Judge Ruth Rocker McMillan, Judge Margo Brodie, and practitioner Tom Innes in Lagos State from November 6–10 to teach public defenders the art and science of effective trial advocacy. J.C. also introduced us to his Rutgers colleague Kimberlee Moran, the Director of Forensic Science at Rutgers-Camden, whose lectures on evidence dazzled program participants and faculty alike.
Though this program was not J.C.’s first visit to the Africa (read his report on Kenya from 2016), it was his first time in Nigeria. Once he returned home to Singapore, where he and his young family are midway through their year of adventure living in Asia, he shared with us his reflections on the inspirational experience of teaching fellow trial lawyers in Lagos State.
You had to piece together the fact pattern and evidence from a few different NITA case files for this program. Why did you need to do that? How did your adaptations to the case file work out?
Nigeria just opened the country’s first forensics lab. This was a somewhat unique NITA program because the offices in Nigeria wanted training in four specific expert witness areas: pathology, firearms identification, questioned documents, and fingerprinting. Unfortunately, there aren’t training materials that are ready to go that can handle that type of training. There certainly aren’t any adapted for Nigeria. Therefore, we had to create new materials. Fortunately, Joseph Taylor and A.J. Griffith-Reed have some brilliant case files that we were able to use as a base. State v. Bloodworth provided the basis for the fact pattern and the pathology expert, but we also included elements from State v. Casey and State v. Skywolf. Several experts from around the country then helped me develop materials in the other expert areas, which I then incorporated into a single, modified case file called State v. Mahlin. We created the case file in a way that was consistent with the Nigerian locale by incorporating local names, addresses, law, and terminology. It could not have been done in such a short time without our wonderful team. The Hon. Margo Brodie, Hon. Ann Claire Williams, Sam Kovach-Orr (my Rutgers research assistant), and Grayce Frink helped with the enormous task of editing this case file for use in Nigeria.
What was the greatest joy for you of being part of this program?
There were so many. Of course, at the top of the list for any NITA program is spending time with so many wonderful NITA colleagues. When you are all together in a different country, you get to spend time teaching, eating, and traveling together. Although I knew many of my colleagues well, it was such a wonderful experience to get extra time to spend with them. It is always wonderful experience to work with Judge Williams when she is the program director.
From the program perspective, the great joy came from the overwhelming and genuine appreciation from the participants for what we were trying to do there. There was no resistance to what we were teaching. There was only a desire to learn, improve, and move their justice system forward.
I think from a team perspective, we welcomed a new superstar to the NITA family. Kimberlee Moran, the Director of Forensic Science at Rutgers-Camden, joined us for the week. She is a special talent and really made this unique type of NITA the success that it was. She delivered ten lectures on the expert topics such as handwriting, ballistics, fingerprints, and pathology. Her lectures and written materials were superb! She also worked tirelessly with the lawyers in small groups to prepare the simulation problems and to more deeply understand the science. Kimberlee also played the role of an expert witness during all of the breakout sessions. I don’t think there is much doubt that, along with Judge Williams, she was the hardest-working NITA faculty member at this program. Our entire group believed we hit a home run by having her with us. At the end of the program, Kimberlee was given a standing ovation by all of the participants and dignitaries, who seemed to agree with our assessment. We were very fortunate to have her with us for the week, and we look forward to working with her to improve the delivery of legal services throughout Africa.
What was your biggest challenge?
The traffic, and there is no doubt about it. It made keeping the program running on time very challenging. The traffic in Nigeria is among the worst I have seen in the world. Sometimes it would take thirty minutes to get to and from the training site, and other times it would take more than two hours. The travel for the participants was even more challenging.
What were the attendees like?
They were warm, welcoming, and passionate. This group of lawyers is extraordinary. There are 63 lawyers supporting a population of 23 million people, and they represent the indigent in both civil and criminal matters. In contrast, Philadelphia has about 240 lawyers supporting a population of 1.5 million, with a much lower poverty rate, and only handling criminal matters.
Did you have time for extracurricular fun?
We were pretty tired at night, so we usually had dinner around the pool. For many of us, it was a great time to catch up and get to know each other even better. However, we did get out for a couple of dinners, including at a restaurant written up recently in The New York Times called Nok. We also had a wonderful faculty dinner with our local Nigerian faculty.
What makes this program important?
We aren’t just shaping the legal system in one courthouse, one county, or even one state. We are impacting the way that law is practiced throughout an entire country. When you teach in Nigeria, you get the strong sense of how important a fair and just legal system is to the stability of the country. What adds to the importance is that the people we trained all recognize the need to keep learning and improving. They work tirelessly. One of the participants who helped us throughout the week commutes four hours to work and two-and-a-half to three hours home each day. Those numbers are not typos, and they were not unique to just this one participant. How can you not feel passionate about supporting a group that fights so hard, works so hard, and does it with such limited resources? What better mission can there be for NITA or any teacher?
NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system.
NITA’s Goals are to: