The International Program – Vietnam

January 18, 2007 Guests: Vietnamese Delegation

The delegation of Vietnamese legal experts and professionals were invited to the United States under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), which was administered by the Delphi International Program of World Learning. The program was designed to introduce the visitors to representatives of legal and judicial agencies around the country in order to provide them with “a wide range of professional opportunities in their areas of expertise.” The program for the Vietnamese officials commenced in Washington, DC, where meetings were scheduled with representatives of federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations that advocate on behalf of the public good. The delegates were notably interested in learning about the following topics:

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The U.S. judicial system and the different levels of courts and their respective jurisdiction The support and training and development of lawyers and judges The structure and methods of the arbitration process The lawmaking process

Judicial Watch was invited to meet with the Vietnamese legal professionals to discuss the topic of “transparency and accountability within the legal system.” President

The International Program – Vietnam

Tom Fitton and Judicial Watch’s director of litigation, Paul Orfanedes, met with the delegates. Mr. Fitton began his presentation by discussing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)—a very important law passed by Congress—which gives every citizen the right to obtain documents and responsive information about the work a federal agency is doing on behalf of the American people. It is a law that is fundamental to the operation of Judicial Watch and essential in promoting openness and transparency in government. If government agencies fail to comply with the law, they can be sued in federal court and ordered to produce the documents requested. Mr. Fitton informed the delegates that Judicial Watch has aggressively pursued documents concerning general government misconduct from federal agencies under FOIA and has successfully forced the release of hundreds of thousands of documents into the public domain. Judicial Watch has also filed lawsuits against government officials for egregious misconduct in the performance of their official duties, but Mr. Fitton acknowledged the inherent difficulty in prosecuting such cases because of the immunity granted to agents of the government when acting in an official capacity. The majority of JW’s lawsuits are brought against a representative body, as in its most recent immigration cases. The immigration lawsuits brought by JW have been filed on behalf of citizens in locals across the country, including Laguna Beach in Orange County, California; Houston, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; and Fairfax County and the Town of Hernon in Virginia. These lawsuits showcase the significant legal right afforded to American citizens to bring suit against local government agencies when they have “standing”—essentially a stake in the matter at law—as in these cases where illegal immigration programs are being funded with taxpayer dollars in violation of federal immigration laws. Mr. Fitton ended his presentation by encouraging the Vietnamese legal professionals to promote the rule of law and the formation of independent organizations like Judicial Watch for the purpose of building up civil society. This would help ensure a

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The International Program – Vietnam

safe environment for foreign business investment and assist in their economic and social development. Mr. Fitton then introduced the delegates to Judicial Watch’s chief litigator and member of its board of directors, who has been with Judicial Watch since its inception in 1994, Mr. Paul Orfanedes. Mr. Orfanedes continued the thread of discussion by stressing the importance of civil groups keeping an eye on government activities. The simple fact that government agencies know someone is paying attention to what they are doing all the time—not just during election cycles—helps keep government and elected officials honest. And, he informed the delegates, there are numerous civil groups like JW watching all aspects of government operations. He also emphasized the extraordinary tools given to the American people through open records and open meetings laws, which allow them access to government documents and operations at federal, state, and local levels. With these tools, Mr. Orfanedes stated, citizens have been armed with the power of the law and can effectively force a government agency to stop doing something that is determined to be in violation of the law. Mr. Orfanedes told the group that being a lawyer at Judicial Watch is very different from private practice, particularly with regard to open records and open meetings laws and the types of cases the organization chooses to litigate. As in the immigration lawsuits, cases are selected on the basis of national significance and in keeping with its mission to investigate and prosecute government corruption. In the litigation process—from investigating and the marshalling of evidence, to putting together a legal argument and defending it in court—the public is kept informed and educated (through newspaper articles, TV and radio interviews, JW Internet postings, symposiums, and speaking engagements). In his closing comments, Mr. Orfanedes stated that in light of the significant amount of discovery allowed by the civil litigation process, including the taking of depositions of parties and witnesses under oath, coupled with the tools provided by open records

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The International Program – Vietnam

and open meetings laws, JW attorneys are only limited by their imagination in the creative use of these tools in investigating and prosecuting government corruption.

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