Here comes the Judge… in Istanbul

adliye

Nov. 2002

As some of you know, I have been having trouble with my landlady, so recently we went to court. This is about a visit to a Turkish court.

Recently my daughter was on jury duty in the US and asked me if Turkey had the same system. No, it doesn’t. This is partly because the law is not based on the Magna Carta, which traditional English law is based on. Turks proudly say that their law is based on the Swiss Code, but mostly I am not sure what that means. One thing that it means, however, is that there is not a jury system. The decisions are made by a judge. Sometimes there might be another expert involved. Today the decision on my case was given by a single judge, which is not so different from when I was in court in the US dealing with custody. Also, a jury system like in the US means that citizens are registered and easily tracked, which is definitely not the case in Turkey.

Today we went to a court house built in the late 1800s during the late Ottoman times. In fact, the building was a collection of buildings, now with a freeway bridge roaring above it. Our court was in B Blok, which was where the icra (eejra) cases were dealt with. I had been there one time before, when this whole court stuff started. At that time I had to reply within seven days to a sort of summons issued by my landlady’s lawyer. Then I went into a shabby room full of pink files and ancient desks. The clerk at one desk lifted up an old typewriter to type my reply, once she had ascertained that I more or less understood Turkish.

This time the hearing was in a room at the end of a long somewhat shabby hallway, full of people waiting or hurrying from room to room. There were two “salons” for hearings, though only one was being used. A typed list of the cases was posted outside our salon. Our case was due to be heard at 11:00—along with about 30 others. We ended up waiting for about 2 hours, so that gave me a lot of time to look around.

 

judge

First of all, the lawyers all wore gowns. The cuffs were green satin, about 5 or 6 inches wide, and they had stand-up red collars. The gowns themselves were black. When I was outside smoking a cigarette, I noticed that a lot of lawyers went to an office window in that area and handed in their robes, so apparently many of them did not own their own. I noticed at the end that my lawyer had his own robe with his name embroidered on the yoke inside it. Under the robes, lawyers wore all sorts of things. Some wore suits, women mostly wore pants, and one guy looked like he was just off campus with black jeans and a sweater. Many of the lawyers were quite young. My lawyer is about 60, so he was one of the older ones.

The hallway was quite crowded with people waiting for their cases to be heard. They were women in headscarves, men in sweaters and suit jackets, grizzled men, businessmen, and some middle class people. I was a little out of place there because it was obvious that I was a foreigner, though people did not pay much attention to me.

courtrm

The salon was not very big. It was about the size of a normal livingroom. There were a few chairs along the back wall and along one side wall, where lawyers sat waiting for their cases. Above the judge’s bench was a large drawing of Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. I imagine it is required, as it is required in all classrooms. The court system supports the Kemalist ideals of secularism, and it was Ataturk who introduced the Swiss law code to Turkey. In the middle of this not very large room were two tables with benches behind them for the plaintiff and defendant (or whatever they are called in a hearing). The lawyer for one side stood at one table and the lawyer for the other stood at the other. If the client was there (like I was), of course she stood beside her lawyer.

A man was coming and going from the salon to the list beside the door. He did not wear a uniform and in fact looked rather shabby. I finally realized that he was the memur, the clerk who called the next case or crossed it off the list if the lawyer had not shown up. He wasn’t dressed much better than a lot of the people coming to have their cases heard. He wore two shirts under his suit jacket, which had seen better days long ago. One shirt’s collar was twisted under the jacket collar. His pants were baggy and a little long and his shoes were scuffed. The man was balding and the rest of his hair was a little shaggy. He had quite Asian features, with the epicanthic fold and high cheekbones. His Mongol roots were very strong. He looked both harried and cowed. In the courtroom he would hand up papers to the judge as they were submitted by the plaintiffs or defendants. Except for calling people into the room, he did not say anything.

The judge, a woman, wore a red gown with a stand-up collar. She was sitting at a high desk at the front of the room. On this desk was a computer monitor, but I didn’t see anyone use it. In front of her was a woman at a desk with a manual typewriter, who pounded away on it at great speed. The judge would dictate her statement, which the clerk would type up immediately. While I watched, the judge smothered three or four yawns. I was afraid that she would take a lunch break just before our case, but luckily that was not so.

Finally my case came up. It was actually Funda’s lawyer on the list, though he did not show up. Instead, he sent a young woman. I don‘t imagine he thought anything would really happen today so why waste his time. We walked in and stood behind the table on the right. Turgay Bey, my lawyer, explained that he had opened a case that would be heard in March. He also explained a little bit of our case. The young woman lawyer said something about it too. The judge asked if we were going to dispense with the other case that was due to be heard on Thursday (my landlady is a nutcase), and both sides agreed. In fact, the other lawyer had made a mistake by filing it, because you can’t open two cases related to each other, apparently. During this process, which took about 5 minutes or less, I stood and tried to look like I was listening with intelligence and comprehension. Then it was over. We will go back for our case on March 13 and for this case on March 17. If we win our case, then this case will be dismissed.

So, that was my law adventure. It was pretty boring, but it was interesting to compare it with courts in the US. The system is quite backlogged, but there seems to be a way to get through it, mostly through postponements. The equipment, like the manual typewriters, is quite old and hard used. There are piles and piles of mauve files in all the rooms I saw into. One place in the hallway was wider and in it were tables and chairs filled by people working hard on the files. Some of them wore robes, so perhaps it was for the lawyers.

The more personal part of the story is that basically my house is still in limbo. However, after the New Year, I plan on doing something to the upstairs to make it useable. That is what I wanted when I took this place, and by golly, that is what I am going to get. It won’t be deluxe, but it will be my big room with my pretty coloured windows and the wonderful terrace with the view. This whole thing is stupid and has just generated major ill will and earnings for the lawyers. However, I will prevail—and I will keep you posted.

And…

These endless and many cases lasted for seven years. Unlike the U.S. system, if the lawyer does not show up, another date is given for another try. By the time the cases were petering out, the court typist was using a computer and there were monitors on the lawyers’ tables so they could check what she was writing. There was no court recorder writing down what everyone was saying. Instead, the judge instructed the court recorder what to write. That document was printed out and taken with us.

criminal court

I also went to criminal court as a witness for Cevdet, the contractor. Funda had decided to charge him with stealing the roof tiles. She had sent her own men to do the roof with the wavy panels evven though the roof tiles were already there. Cevdet took them back and we used the money elsewhere in the flat. He brought a businessman in a suit who owned the store where Cevdet had bought and returned the tiles. It was also useful that he was on the Beyoglu city council. In this case, there was one active judge and one savci, who was like a backup judge. I testified that Cevdet had not stolen the tiles.  Outside, our lawyer, Taner, strongly pointed out to a workman who was going to testify for Funda that perjury was a serious crime.  Taner basically took the wind out of her sails, thank goodness.

And I changed lawyers. The old lawyer had cheated me by keeping some of my money and the new lawyers were on the ball. Ultimately I won a small settlement, which I used to open my cafe. It was a cultural experience I could have done without, but such is life.

 

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