It’s an insane experience, an exciting and fascinating experience, but still insane when I finally think about being on a Zoom call with multiple international judges.
This summer, I have the opportunity to work for the Central and Eastern Europe Law Initiative Institute (CEELI), an international organization headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic — from my parents’ living room in South Florida. This summer isn’t what I imagined, nor is it what anyone expected, but in true human fashion I will adapt and continue to be thankful for this opportunity. So, I didn’t get to wake up in Prague, but I did get to wake up to the sound rain and drink a warm cup of coffee with my mom — the first of many to come this summer.
It has been three weeks since starting my remote internship with the CEELI Institute and the amount I have already learn is incredible. Traditionally, CEELI has hosted in-person programs, but due to the pandemic the Institute has begun to shift to an online learning model. My internship centers around CEELI’s Judicial Exchange Network and the current COVID-19 crisis. The Judicial Exchange Network is comprised of leading judges from eighteen countries in Central and Eastern Europe with goals focused on judicial independence and institutional reform. Their current concern is how judiciaries, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to continue the work of the Judicial Network, CEELI has created both a Webinar Series and Podcast Series that supports the Network’s mandate to improve judicial integrity and court efficiency. This is where my work focuses, from gathering and analyzing supportive resources to creating judicial surveys and podcast transcripts—I have jumped headfirst in CEELI’s Judicial Network. By assisting on these projects, I have been given the opportunity to learn from judges—who are experts in their fields—and get to be a voice in the coronavirus impact and solution discussions.
What has been the center of these discussions is the reality of implementing “remote justice.” Is it possible for states to be able to guarantee the rights of the accused, ensure due process, and have true justice while utilizing remote tools? Currently, most states have only used these tools for certain judicial processes—none criminal—and are unsure of what expanding these tools will look like. However, what appears clear is that these tools, even post-pandemic, are here to stay. Remote tools are credited with helping courts increase efficiency and cut cost, especially for remote regions. While there are concerns with these practices, the courts face ever growing pressures and will likely need new methods to address them. Throughout this summer, I look forward to learning more about the different judicial systems within Central and Eastern Europe and how they will continue to respond to the COVID-19.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my experience so far is how lovely each member of CEELI’s team has been to work with. I think as a new intern, you already have this fear of not knowing what you are doing, add a pandemic to the situation, and working remotely—that fear can intensify quickly. But CEELI has been supportive since the start, and I have felt valuable in the opinions and support I’ve contributed. I’ve grown to become a helpful member of the team quite quickly and truly feel as if I am contributing to the process and the result.
Beyond learning about the rule of law and international judiciaries, I have once again learned how small the world can be. When I applied and accepted the internship with CEELI, I only knew it as a program associated with Professor Warren. Since then, the connections have been nothing short of story worthy. The links begin with the fact that CEELI was started by a former Florida State President, my alma mater, and the institution that brought me to Prague for the first time—five years ago. CEELI’s director, unbeknownst to either of us, is an old family friend of my roommate, and unexpectedly enough has a home streets away from where I grew up. My best friend phrased it perfectly when she said, “Prague has unfinished business with you.” It’s funny how much, even during a worldwide pandemic, a city can change you 5,000 miles away.
In the three weeks since starting and I have met more people from around the world—at once—than ever before, but in these moments, I see how close we are. At times it has been difficult to almost live in two worlds—the CEELI world and the America I live in. As I work to address the judiciary concerns of COVID-19 and assist CEELI in their dedication to the rule of law, I am also, personally, working with the reality of systematic racism in the United States and my role as a privileged white women. The state sponsored brutality on black and brown lives has become the issue America can no longer turn a blind eye to. After the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police, and the continued institutional oppression of black and brown communities, protests fighting for racial equity have erupted across the world. It has been difficult to balance this American reality and focus on what feels like a far off world. But, through CEELI, I have been able to understand how close our worlds are, and when I see protests in the Central and Eastern European countries I am learning about— I can not help but feel connected.