Editors' Note: This essay has been modified to reflect a Correction.
The following is excerpted from a speech delivered by Judge Jed S. Rakoff after accepting the Stanley J. Fuld Award from the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar on Jan. 23.
I want to honor Judge Stanley J. Fuld's memory by describing some modern-day judges who are defending the rule of law literally with their lives, and by that I mean the judges of Iraq.
One month ago, I had the privilege of spending a week in Baghdadnot exactly April in Paris. I was part of a small group invited by the Iraqi courts to help train 15 Iraqi judges on the role of the judiciary in adjudicating international credit disputes. By way of background, Iraq has created a special International Commercial Court with exclusive jurisdiction over all commercial cases in which at least one party is a foreign person or entity. The object is to assure foreign investors that, whatever other vicissitudes they face in investing in Iraq, they can be certain that any legal disputes will be handled by a court that is expert, honest and committed to the neutral application of the rule of law.
In 2011, its first year, the Iraqi International Commercial Court handled about 300 cases, and in 2012 it handled nearly 400 cases. I'm told that in at least one-third of those cases, the foreign entity prevailed. Moreover, I'm told that more than half the cases were brought by foreign entities, who by simply increasing their filings more than one-third in the court's first year thereby expressed their confidence in the court.
On a more personal level, I must tell you that I was very impressed with the intelligence and legal skills, both of the judges I met who were already on the Iraqi International Commercial Court and those who, as part of this program, were being trained in the skills they would need to become part of the court.
All well and good; but why do I say the judges on this court, and other Iraqi courts, are literally defending the rule of law with their lives? Because in the last few years, no fewer than 49 Iraqi judges have been assassinated. Indeed, the second ranking judge of the Iraqi International Commercial Court, Judge Jabbar Al-Lami, a vibrant and brilliant judge who was a key part of our training program, was attacked two years ago while leaving his compound. Thirteen bullets entered his body, mainly his head and chest. Six passed through, and the other seven remained lodged in his body. Miraculously, he survived, but even today one bullet remains in his head, because it is too surgically dangerous to remove it. But there he is, his mind as sharp as ever, carrying out his judicial duties as if nothing had ever happened.
And then there is the Chief Justice of Iraq, Medhat al-Mamoud, whom I also had the pleasure of meeting. Despite very tight security, he has been the object of two assassination attempts by terrorists. These attacks were unsuccessful, but in 2006 his only son was assassinated. And yet he too carries on as if nothing had happened. The only right word for these judges is "heroic."
And who are the assassins? Occasionally, they are one of the litigants or their allies, who first try to bribe the judge, then to threaten him, and when all else fails, choose to murder him. But more commonly the assassins are members of Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups, who seek to destabilize and eliminate the branch of the Iraqi government that has shown the greatest degree of stability and neutrality, that is, the courts.
This is not to suggest that Iraqi courts are free of corruption or political influence. Under Sadaam Hussein, the courts were filled with judges who were open to such influences, and while some, though not all, these judges were removed when Sadaam Hussein was overthrown, the U.S. State Department has estimated that, even in the best of circumstances, it will take a full generation before such influences are entirely weeded out.
But there are many signs that this process is underway.