When the Suffolk Superior Court jury delivered a verdict of not guilty in his assault and battery case yesterday, defendant Cedric Cundiff heaved a sigh of surprise.
And so did one fascinated observer: Azalia Ivanovna Dolgova. The law professor, visiting from Moscow, had come to the courthouse with the express hope of seeing an American jury in action. Yesterday, that hope became fact, as Dolgova watched a jury deliver a verdict in one case and a jury impaneled in another in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Robert W. Banks.
"It's absolutely new," said Dolgova of the jury system, currently not the practice of the Soviet Union. "It's the first time -- I was interested in everything."
But she added the jury was still out as to how well the system works. "I am still undecided," Dolgova added, with a judicious smile.
In a visit that seemed to herald that the policy of "glasnost" -- or openness -- is still flourishing in the Soviet Union, Dolgova and eight colleagues have come to Boston to talk with law professors, lawyers and judges about the American legal system.
It is the highest ranking Soviet legal delegation ever to visit this country, according to its sponsors, the People to People Foundation, a cultural exchange group founded in the 1950s. And the Soviet delegates also make up a first of a different kind:they are members of the National Lawyers Union, a group that is less than a month old.
So far, the group has visited a prison in Maryland and the Supreme Court in Washington. Also, at a time when the Soviet constitution is under discussion, it has paid homage to the bicentennial of the American constitution in Philadelphia.
But for Dolgova, the morning spent in Banks' courtroom and chambers swapping information about the different legal systems was a highlight of the tour.
"It's better once to see than 10 times to hear," said Dolgova, quoting a Russian proverb when asked about her visit.
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's political and economic reforms have touched off a debate concerning legal changes -- from reforms of existing laws to new legal procedures and principles. When the first democratically elected Soviet Parliament met last springs, some members criticized the existing legal system.
Next Monday, drafts of legal reforms will go to the Supreme Soviet, the country's highest executive body, according to members of the delegation.
But many -- Westerners and Soviet Union citizens alike -- have expressed skepticism that the drive for legal reform is more talk than action. "Criminal law reforms is very slow in coming," said Lowry Wyman, a fellow at Harvard's Russian Research Center.
One change in the Soviet legal format under discussion is institution of a jury system, according to delegation members. "There is wide discussion of the possibility of introducing a jury trial," said Dolgova, "but there are those who oppose its introduction."
In their discussion at Suffolk Superior Court, Banks and Dolgova discovered some major differences between American and Soviet legal systems. Here, a criminal case is decided by a jury. In the Soviet union, a judge, assisted by two representatives, makes a decision in a case.
In this country, most judges are appointed. But in the Soviet Union, they are elected.
But the pair discovered at least one common judicial theme: low pay. "We are losing people to industry," said Dologova, who added that a slight raise for prosecutors and judges is in the offing.
That struck a responsive chord. "We could take the lead of the Russian government, " said Banks, " in raising salaries of the judiciary.
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