May 26, 2003 - Maryland Leadership Law: Brazil RPCV Peter J. Messitte U.S. District Court Judge

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Brazil: Peace Corps Brazil: The Peace Corps in Brazil: May 26, 2003 - Maryland Leadership Law: Brazil RPCV Peter J. Messitte U.S. District Court Judge

By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, May 26, 2003 - 5:05 pm: Edit Post

Brazil RPCV Peter J. Messitte U.S. District Court Judge

Brazil RPCV Peter J. Messitte U.S. District Court Judge

The Hon. Peter J. Messitte

After completing law school at the University of Chicago, Peter J. Messitte did not immediately hang out a shingle of his own.

Instead, he joined the Peace Corps, working in community development in Sao Paolo, Brazil, practicing what he might call a bit of entry-level international diplomacy.

Today as a judge on the U.S. District Court bench, Messitte finds himself traveling the world at the behest of governments and judiciaries everywhere from Turkey to Wales to explore ways to improve their legal systems.

After the Peace Corps and prior to becoming a judge, Messitte worked for Zuekert, Scoutt & Rasenberger in Washington. He worked in private practice in Chevy Chase for another 14 years before joining the Montgomery County Circuit Court in 1985.

“While there, I was involved in a number of divorce issues and quickly realized that there was a need for more than just legal input, especially when children were involved,” Messitte said.

To that end, he established the state’s first divorce roundtable — a gathering of lawyers, social workers and psychiatrists.

“We made it mandatory that divorcing couples had counseling as to the effect divorce might have on their children.”

From there, Messitte directed his efforts to independent adoption practices. Although there are intermediaries, such as adoption agencies, to represent the best interests of both adoptive parents and birth parents, those engaged in independent adoptions were largely operating on their own, and in Maryland, independent adoptions were totally unregulated.

Appointed by Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert Murphy, Messitte pulled together a 100-page report that ended up as the basis for proposed legislation.

The Hon. Peter J. Messitte
Court: U.S. District Court, Southern Division

Law School: University of Chicago

Region: Suburban Maryland

County: Prince George’s County

“There were a lot of issues involved, including how much time birth parents were allowed to reconsider their decision to give a child up for adoption, how to monitor the payments for medical and legal fees, and how to be certain that the birth parents understood their right to paid legal and psychological counseling when making their decision,” he says.

Then Messitte, along with federal judges Deborah Chasanow and Alexander Williams Jr., found himself helping with the design of a new courthouse for the Southern Division in Prince George’s County.

“We very much kept the community in mind and tried to make the courthouse user-friendly,” he said. “This building looks more like the Guggenheim Museum than a courthouse. We’ve worked with the Prince George’s Arts Council to have changing exhibits of artwork by local artists exhibited in the halls.”

More recently, Messitte’s focus has been devoted to working with developing countries to establish independent judicial systems.

“These days, I guess you could say that I do a lot of high-level judicial diplomacy,” Messitte said. “After the breakup of the Soviet Union, for example, as well as in the case of countries once under military dictatorships, there has been a great demand for information about how a democratic legal system works.

“For example, the World Bank has observed that investors will not come to countries that do not have a stable judiciary to enforce property rights, not to mention human rights. Everyone looks to the United Systems as a model, and although our system isn’t perfect, it is a very good place to begin,” he said.

As a result, Messitte trots all over the globe explaining details about how the criminal process works, what plea bargaining means, the considerations a judge takes into account when computing a sentence, how to discipline errant judges, how to deal with illegally seized evidence and how to handle a scenario in which a superior says, “This is the decision I want.”

For someone who began his career in the Peace Corps, Messitte has in many ways come full circle. “Today almost everything I do is in the international arena,” he said.

— By Mary E. Medland

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Story Source: Maryland Leadership Law

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Brazil; Law



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