Rule of Law – Armenia
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
October 6 – 14, 2023
- Tigran Davtyan – Judge, Anti-Corruption Court
- Armen Hovhannisyan – Judge, Anti-corruption Cases at the Criminal Court of Appeals
- Edgar Karapetyan – Judge, Aragatsotn Region General Jurisdiction Court
- Gnel Gasparyan – Judge, Yerevan City General Jurisdiction Court
- Jon Hayrapetyan – Judge, Shirak Region General Jurisdiction Court
Facilitator: Kristina Afoyan
On Friday, October 6, 2023, Judges Lisa Hammond and Suzanne Mitchell met our delegation at the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. The group arrived and were quite enthusiastic. We dropped each off at their host homes.
The weekend was full of cultural adventures for all, including a shopping spree, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and the Museum of Western Heritage, aka The Cowboy. Other events included watching the OU-Texas Red River Rivalry Game. The group enjoyed Saturday’s mild-weathered evening, joining Judge Suzanne Mitchell at Fassler Hall, for some libations and snacks, before heading out with hosts for an adventure at a well known local dance club.
Hosts Jordan and Jesse Gould hosted an opening welcome dinner and cocktail party on Sunday evening. Rotary Club 29 President Lesli Massad joined, as did Rotarian Farooq Karim and his spouse, Blossom, and Rotarian Miles and his spouse Andrea Pringle. The Goulds’ lovely historical home was fully outfitted for the Halloween season. A visiting saxophone player from Cameroon entertained our honored guests. Judge Gnel gave a lovely toast to the hosts, fellow judges, and the program. More toasts followed and everyone enjoyed an incredible meal.
Given that Monday was a federal holiday, the group headed to the Oklahoma City University School of Law, where Dean David Holt (who also serves as Mayor of Oklahoma City) greeted the delegation. The group then toured the 1910 building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Following this was a visit to the school’s Innocence Clinic where program representatives spoke about the Clinic’s laborious process to accept a case, the journey of that case, and highlighted the Oklahoma City Project’s recent successes in exonerating factually innocent defendants.
The group then met with Experiential Learning Director Tia Ebarb Matt. OCU Law graciously provided lunch and the delegation had discussions with directors of the The Native American Wills Clinic where students, supervised by faculty clinicians provide assistance to American Indians in wills and estate planning in an area where the relationship between the U.S. Government and tribes makes estate planning particularly complicated.
Next stop was the First Americans Museum, where Mayor Holt, of Osage descent, spoke. The afternoon was filled with stomp dances by the Chickasaw Nation, youth stickball games and stickball exhibitions, and other cultural dances.
Judge Gnel Gasparyan (left) and Judge Armen Hovhannisyan (right) at the First Americans Museum.
After a quick change at their host homes, the delegation and hosts headed to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first pre-season game, in tickets graciously provided by the Team. The Thunder pulled off a close victory against the San Antonio Spurs, for whom rookie phenom Victor Wembanyama plays.
Tuesday began with a visit to the Oklahoma Bar Center, where Executive Director Janet K. Johnson welcomed the delegation. The group participated in discussions about technology and the practice of law, ethics, and attorney discipline. Julie Bays introduced some eye-opening technological products and explained their use in legal practice. She demonstrated voice-recognition software and a variety of fillable forms that she uses to expedite a variety of tasks. OBA’s Ethics Counsel, Richard Stevens, spoke and explained his role and the assistance he provides directly to bar members. He explained the creation of his office and the critical role it can play in aiding attorneys.
The delegation enjoyed the state-of-the-art workspace, comfortable surroundings, and the Lady Justice statue in the foyer.
The delegation joined fellow Rotarians for its weekly lunch meeting, where Executive Director Megan Law had arranged two private tables up front for the delegation, where host families and other Rotarians joined the group. The week’s speakers Mark Beffort and Dick Tanenbaum gave an update on Oklahoma City’s real estate development happenings.
After lunch, Judge Hammond escorted the group to the Oklahoma County Courthouse where they were able to observe a jury trial in progress before Judge Susan Stallings involving felony charges of crimes against a child, which resulted in a guilty verdict and a very lengthy prison sentence. They then had robust discussions with Judge Nikki Kirkpatrick about the jury system and the benefits and challenges the jury system presents. Finally, the group met with Presiding Judge Don Andrews and enjoyed discussions about the differences and similarities of the two countries Court System. Judge Andrews also introduced them to a Lebanese restaurant in Downtown Oklahoma City where we all joined for lunch on Wednesday.
Host families brought their guests to Rotarian Mary Jane Calvey’s home for a “Tailgate themed” dinner, with SWAG from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.
On Wednesday morning, the group ventured to the W. Roger Webb Forensic Science Institute University of Central Oklahoma Forensic Sciences Institute, hosted by Dr. Mark McCoy, Interim Director. The group enjoyed coffee and pastries in the impressive rotunda, followed by Dr. McCoy’s introduction to the Institute and its unique multidisciplinary program for undergraduates and its rigorous and highly competitive graduate program. Next, Janice Joslin, Forensic Lab Director, led us on a tour of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Forensic Science Center. The group engaged in interactive experiments involving field-sobriety testing, and learned about forensic light source applications, DNA collection, and ballistics testing.
Next up was a delicious family style lunch at Saj Lebanese Cuisine, where Presiding Oklahoma County Judge Don Andrews joined the group along with Justice Noma Gurich. After lunch, the group headed to the Oklahoma Judicial Center, where Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Noma Gurich provided a tour and a Q&A session. Justice Gurich explained the state court appellate system and gave a tour of the 1929 court building. She highlighted the building’s impressive art collection and its architecture, including the grand marble staircase and beautifully restored original finishes. Justice Gurich generously arranged gift bags for the delegates, which included posters from the Sovereignty Symposium held in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Scott Rowland and Judge William Musseman met with the delegation and fielded many questions from the visiting judges about the criminal and appellate process.
Justice Gurich joined the group for a visit to the Oklahoma City based Ryan, Whaley litigation-based law firm. The firm is housed in the National Register of Historic Places recognized 1919 building which served as the base for the U.S. Army forces charged with maintaining law and order during and after the land run of April 22, 1889. Dan Weber and several of his partners welcomed the group and provided refreshments. The delegation peppered the attorneys with procedural and substantive questions.
Rotarians Suzanne Mitchell and Sam Fulkerson host a patio BBQ dinner for the delegation and host families
Thursday morning, the group toured the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, where Rotary Club 29 President Lesli Massad had arranged admission. Lunch was provided in Chief Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti’s library at the William J. Holloway, Jr. U.S. Courthouse. Several of the Court’s judges attended and a hearty discussion followed.
That afternoon, the group observed a federal sentencing, United States v. Urias, conducted by Judge Charles B. Goodwin. Then, the group proceeded to observe Judge Shon T. Erwin conduct several preliminary felony proceedings, and engaged in a Q&A before departing.
Rotarian Elizabeth Dalton hosted an al fresco Tex-Mex dinner at her lovely home. She invited her colleague, Karlen Parsamian, who is of Armenian descent. Karlen’s dad joined as well.
Dinner at Rotarian Elizabeth Dalton’s home
Friday morning, the group observed another federal sentencing in United States v. Marshall, conducted by Judge David L. Russell. After a discussion with the prosecutor and defense counsel, Judge Russell invited the group to his chambers. Judge Russell gave the group a tour and graciously answered and asked many questions. One visiting judge noted Judge Russell’s framed Presidential Commission, signed by President Ronald Reagan. Judge Russell relayed the story of when President Reagan telephoned him at his office to ask if he would serve as an Article III judge in the Western District of Oklahoma. Judge Russell thought it to be a prank by one of his friends. The delegation told Judge Russell that Armenia revered President Reagan. In 1981, he was the first President to refer openly to the Armenian genocide during WWI.
Next the group observed the Court’s Naturalization Ceremony, where dozens of people from several countries became new U.S. citizens, including a former Tajikistani citizen. The group sat in the jury box in the Ceremonial Courtroom for a Naturalization Ceremony. Chief Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti presided, joined by Judges Jodi Dishman, Bernard M. Jones, and Suzanne Mitchell. Special guests included Senator James Lankford and his wife, Cindy. Senator Lankford serves on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and previously served on the Board of Trustees of the Open World Leadership Center. During the ceremony, he spoke about the rights, privileges, and obligations of being an American.
After Judge Mitchell presented each delegate with a commemorative coin from the Western District of Oklahoma and a certificate recognizing their completion of the program, she hosted a Hideaway Pizza “lunch ‘n’ learn” in the Court Clerk’s conference room. Will Farrior, Assistant U.S. Attorney and e-Litigation Chair and Chief Public Federal Defender Jeff Byers led the session focusing on search warrants and technology. The presenters gave varying pros and cons of geolocation monitoring, tracking warrants, facial recognition software, geofences, and other emerging technology. An engaged and lively audience peppered them with questions and their perspectives.
Host families picked up the delegation for various cultural opportunities that afternoon. The host families picked up their delegates for last-minute cultural fun.
Rotarian Ron Sutor hosted the closing dinner at his home with many Rotarians and friends present. Host families and social event hosts from the week joined, in addition to President Lesli Massad. In addition to a variety of homemade Middle Eastern regional cuisine, Ron had arranged for cultural dances to be performed by instructors from the Aalim Dance Academy in Oklahoma City. There were many toasts and gifts exchanged.
On Saturday, we made it to the airport in plenty of time. With some creative repacking and with help from the patient Delta Airlines’ gate agents, we bid a sad goodbye to our new friends
Undoubtedly, the host families made lifelong friends. And, the group’s energy, optimism, and inquisitiveness impressed Rotary Club 29. Oklahoma City and Yerevan are working to develop a municipal partnership and become “Sister Cities” and our communications are ongoing.