Visiting the Department of Justice!

This morning we got to take a tour of the Department of Justice. We all met up at the Hamilton Hotel to board our bus to the DOJ—I spotted Jared sitting next to two women whom I soon learned were Saule and Kundyz. They work at the ABA ROLI office in Nur-Sultan (or Astana, as our visitors referred to it; Kazakhstan's capital city was only renamed Nur-Sultan, after their first president, in 2019). All of us in the DC office are new to the city, so the drive there was our first time seeing a lot of the Capital's famous landmarks in real life—we may have been more excited than our visitors!

When we pulled up to the DOJ, we were immediately greeted by a security guard outside the (large, intimidating-looking) building. The guard asked us for our passports—which is when two of our visitors realized they had left theirs behind! Jared asked the guard if there was any chance security might accept photos of their passports (which Haley had sent them a few days before)—the guard shrugged and said he didn't think it would work, but that we were free to enter the building. I was anxious about the success of the trip—but my inner-nerd was still a little excited just to see the inside of the DOJ.

Once we entered, we were greeted by our Study Tour Guide, Judge Canan, who serves as a Senior Judge on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. After we explained the issue, he talked with the guards in the security booth for us. Luckily, since Haley had already sent them all of our information beforehand, they were happy to accept photos of our passports and hand us our visitor passes (I snapped a selfie with mine).


Once we passed through security, we met with a tour guide from the DOJ, who excitedly escorted us to a "very important room." When we entered, to our right we saw a platform stage with an American flag on one end and a DOJ flag on the other, and blue curtains behind it. Jared and I exchanged giddy glances—we had both seen the Attorney General give speeches here on TV. Later, our visiting Kazakhstan Supreme Court judges took photos on the stage—and I even got to take one too!

After geeking out over where we were, the group situated themselves at a long conference table on the other side of the room. I stayed back for a minute—unsure of where to sit at a table full of judges—before sitting next to Jared. Our guide then introduced us to Deputy Chief Paige Fitzgerald, who works in the Civil Rights Division. She had worked on the George Floyd case and is currently working on the Buffalo shooting case. Deputy Chief Fitzgerald then asked everyone to introduce themselves. Once we got to me, I hesitated, unsure of whether an intern should introduce themselves or not, but Jared smiled and nodded. "Hi, um, I'm Alexa Grunow and I am interning with the ROLI's Central Asia bureau," I squeaked out.


Deputy Chief Fitzgerald gave the judges an overview of our criminal justice system—it was amazing to get a criminal law refresher from someone so accomplished! Listening to the Kazakhstan Supreme Court justices was also thought-provoking. A lot of their questions involve aspects of the American justice system that I tend to take for granted; like the fact that we presume the defendant is innocent, or the many protections that our adversarial system offers in terms privacy, like spousal privilege for example.

Our visitors were highly engaged and Deputy Chief Fitzgerald was happy to stay over time—it was really educational to listen in on their conversation! Unfortunately, since we did not yet have interpretation equipment, our translators had to translate consecutively instead of simultaneously, which meant we had to cut the rest of our tour short. We did get to see the DOJ library, though, which was such a cool experience. We also got to see a lot of the DOJ's art; I didn't know before the tour, but the DOJ actually has a substantial amount of frescos and statues. Much of the art we saw was created in the late 1930s and early 1940s which was apparent from its distinctive style. All of the art featured different interpretations of justice and the role of courts in society.

Tomorrow we are meeting with the Innocence Project, whose work I've admired for a long time. I'm so grateful that I get to come along on the study tour and that I get to intern with the ABA ROLI! Everything has been such a wonderful experience so far, and everyone at the office has been so kind and friendly.

Below are some photos of the DOJ's frescos!


Department of Justice fresco, featuring cowboys fighting each other and pioneers journeying out West.