Fort Worth Magazine November 2010 : Page 73

build Judge Joe Spurlock: Helping A DemocrAcy As families congregate for Thanksgiving around Fort Worth, Mongolians can be thankful for their growing democracy, helped in part by a Fort Worth judge. by Adam Pitluk november 2010 ~ Fort Worth, Texas 73

Judge Joe Spurlock: Helping Build a Democracy

Adam Pitluk

It’s a relatively calm day downtown. Traffic is light. The air’s a bit static. Save for the occasional din of a jackhammer taking bites out of Lancaster Avenue, all seems calm and quiet on the western front. Coming down Houston Street and hemming the brick walkway around the Convention Center, an interesting horde of men and one lone woman speaking in a decidedly foreign tongue. Fort Worth does indeed have her share of non-native-English speakers, but almost none of the half-million people here call “Mongolian” their first language. Or second. Or third. In fact, given the geographic obstacles (a 16-hour flight, not including mandatory connections, as well as several oceans and 7,000 miles separate capital city Ulan Bator from the Fort Worth Courthouse steps), it’s safe to say that not too many Mongolians make it to Fort Worth in their lifetimes, and visa versa.<br /> <br /> They walk just like Texans, a symbolic nod to the generations of horsemen from whom they’ve descended, and they carry themselves with impeccable posture and confidence. But this crew is different than your average local. Perhaps it’s because the Mongolian contingent is composed of three men and one woman, all of whom only have one name, that makes them stand out. (Mongolians generally use only their given name and the first initial of their father's given name.) Or perhaps it’s because these policymakers are studying every building, every alleyway, every streetlight with a surgeon’s precision and a lawyer’s acumen, which prompt curious looks from passers-by.<br /> <br /> Whatever the case, these four people are nothing short of a collection of the most powerful and influential politicos in the roughand- tumble country of Mongolia. These are the framers of the Mongolian constitution — the James Madisons and Thomas Jeffersons of Ulan Bator — and they sought out teachers from other democracies like 72-year-old Fort Worth native and legal legend who’s leading the tour.<br /> <br /> Judge of Character Judge Joe Spurlock II assumed a Herculean task. It might not have been the smartest move for a man who’d already survived one heart attack and who was past retirement age. But Spurlock, or “Judge” as he’s often called around Fort Worth, was never one to shy away from a challenge. Nor was he a man who takes the twin hearts of freedom and democracy for granted.<br /> <br /> “I’m just an old freedom fighter,” Spurlock said from beneath a walrus mustache, his trademark for more than four decades. “It’s something Dad imparted to me, and something his dad imparted to him.” <br /> <br /> At the very least, a desire to aid people and facilitate their pursuits of life, liberty and happiness is what led Judge Spurlock into the family business: Law, or more precisely, judging. But spend an hour with the man and his words take on new meaning. He’s a freedom fighter: of that there’s no denying. More than anything, though, a loathing of communism motivates Judge Spurlock, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. And that is why when the newfangled contemporary government of Mongolia came calling him and Texas Wesleyan University School of Law — which he helped found — and requested guidance, the freedom fighter answered the phone. “I really admire their courage,” Judge Spurlock said. “This decision couldn’t be easy for the people or for the government.” <br /> <br /> Mongolia is a democratic oasis, landlocked in the middle of some pretty hairy geopolitical territory: Russia to the north, Kazakhstan to the west and China along the other compass points. And just two decades earlier, Mongolia was aligned with the Soviet Union.<br /> <br /> After the collapse of the U.S.S.R., policymakers in Ulan Bator were presented with a conundrum: should they attempt to model themselves after the western example of a separation of powers, or should they align themselves with the People’s Republic of China, thereby remaining communist? Then- President P. Orchibat and his cabinet opted for the former, and in the early ’90s, Mongolia underwent a peaceful, bloodless democratic revolution. When the time came to overhaul Mongolia’s judicial system, the country’s top brass approached the most storied law school in the U.S. But Harvard wasn’t interested in aiding the Mongolians with their transformation. The door remained closed at their next stop, Yale, as well. President Orchibat and appointed Mongolian Justice G. Ganzorig decided to try their luck in our nation’s capital, yet they received the same frosty reception at American University. Then at Georgetown. Then at George Washington.<br /> <br /> “I figure the boys on the East Coast were too concerned with Mongolia’s track record on human rights issues to entertain a plea for assistance,” Spurlock said. “They didn’t stop to think that an independent, ethical judicial system is how you curb abuses of and make reforms in human rights issues.” <br /> <br /> The judge, on the other hand, thinks about the role of the judiciary often. Partly because he comes from a civic-minded lineage (his mother, Clarice, was Fort Worth’s first female City Council member, elected in 1952: His father, Joe Sr., was a former trial attorney and a justice on the 2nd District Court of Appeals) and partly because he’s worked as a prosecutor, and he was a member of the Texas House from 1970 to 1977. He was also a judge of the 231st District Court from 1977 to 1983 and justice of the 2nd District Court of Appeals from 1983 to 1992.<br /> <br /> Spurlock was uniquely qualified to foster the sort of change in the land of Genghis Kahn that would make them more like us.<br /> <br /> Path to Freedom Thanks to a TWU Law alumnus with business interests in Ulan Bator, the Mongolians turned their eyes to Texas. After a brief introduction, they fixed their stare on Fort Worth and Judge Spurlock.<br /> <br /> So at the age of 62, the judge had a new pet project: reform the entire judicial system of Mongolia. His first move was to create an entity of like-minded great legal intellectuals while at the same time using the venture as an educational tool for his law students. Spurlock created the Asian Judicial Institute in 1999 and began educating the justices of the Mongolian Supreme Court, as well as a handful of other judges and lawmakers, on how the U.S. — and Texas, in particular — manages a balance of power in its courts.<br /> <br /> Since the inception of the AJI, Mongolia’s democracytasked founding fathers have traveled to Fort Worth and to the Texas Supreme Court in Austin nine times. Spurlock and other local judges have traveled to Mongolia as well, where they hold seminars, conduct panels and teach about judicial independence, honesty and responsibility.<br /> <br /> “These ideals that we may take for granted are foreign concepts to all of the Mongolians who were born and raised in the communist system,” the judge said. “I’ve had to slow-talk many of the people in power and explain to them that democracy means freedom to choose, including religion. This is not a Judeo-Christian society by any means. The Soviets weren’t big believers in the Creator.” <br /> <br /> Over Spurlock’s nine trips to Mongolia, he and the institute have been credited with that country’s decision to shift the power to issue search and arrest warrants from prosecutors to judges. This was a major step forward in preserving human rights.<br /> <br /> “We wanted to pay special attention to renovating and strengthening the Mongolian judicial system,” said former Mongolian Secretary General L. Enebish. “According to Judge [Spurlock], that is one of several criteria of a democratic country. We are interested in supporting AJI’s further activities by all possible means. We are satisfied very much with Judge Spurlock’s big efforts in retraining Mongolian lawyers, judges and justices.” <br /> <br /> The AJI was also instrumental in convincing the parliament to change its leadership of the General Counsel of Courts. The minister of justice, a holdover from the communist system, was replaced with the chief justice of the Supreme Court, removing a serious problem of concentration of power in one person’s hands.<br /> <br /> Former Just ice Ganzorig said he and his countrymen are eternally grateful for the advice supplied by the AJI over the last decade. And he believes Texans and Mongolians are kindred spirits — culturally and intellectually — which is why he was one of the four-person delegation who returned to Fort Worth in 2010 and studied the streets for hints and signs of freedom to bring home.<br /> <br /> “Our two cultures are very similar,” Ganzorig said. “We’re both very cordial people. Our nature is very similar. We’re both a cowboy culture. And we both eat a lot of meat.”

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