This week’s interview is with Peter Roudik, Director of the Global Legal Research Center.
Describe your background.
I was born in Moscow, Russia into a typical Russian intelligentsia family. My parents taught me to appreciate books, art, and classical music. For 30 years I lived two blocks from the Red Square in this building.
What is your academic/professional history?
I received my education in Moscow and Budapest, Hungary. I earned a JSD from the Institute of State and Law of the Russian Academy of Sciences, then the premiere Russian legal research institution. While there, I met leading legal scholars from Russia and around the world, and established my professional network. We were often called on to help Russian legislators draft bills and answer their questions. Working at the institution, I got an inside knowledge of parliamentary affairs. At the same time, I taught legal history and comparative law at the Russian State Classics Academy Law School. My first encounter with the U.S. legal system occurred at the Central European University in Budapest, where faculty from the United States taught American law to East European students. Then thanks to the John W. Palmer scholarship, I was able to compare my theoretical knowledge with real life at the Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio.
In 1994 I moved to the United States to work for the Center for East European Constitutionalism at the University of Chicago Law School. The Center conducted comparative constitutional studies and published the East-European Constitutional Review, the first law journal dedicated to analysis of constitutional reforms in the former Soviet block. In Chicago, I cooperated with the law firm McBreen, McBreen & Kopko where I learned more about American legal practice. In 1996, I was hired by the Law Library of Congress to work as a legal specialist covering the former Soviet countries and moved to D.C.
I have to say that my old office at the University of Chicago was apparently a good starting point for those who wanted to relocate to Washington. The faculty member who moved into the office after me soon moved to DC also: first to the Senate, and then to The White House.
How would you describe your job to other people?
I think that I have the best legal job in the world because it is a wonderful combination of academic research and legal practice. I am the first Director of Legal Research who continues to work as a legal specialist providing research on jurisdictions originally assigned to me, which are the republics of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. That gives me a unique opportunity to work very closely with all other members of the Law Library’s research team on major assignments and be ready to respond to questions regarding the laws of my jurisdictions at any time. As a legal specialist, I’ve testified twice at congressional hearings and have participated in court trials. Research is probably the most attractive element of my work. Almost daily, while reviewing the reports of my colleagues, I learn something new about different legal cultures. I regularly discuss with my colleagues how to improve the quality of our work, what new research products to introduce, and what to do in order to move our products to the forefront of modern comparative legal studies. My goal is to keep the research part of the Law Library in line with the vision of the Law Librarian of Congress. Another equally enjoyable part of my work is spending time with people from outside of the Library to help them learn more how our great institution can help them in their work.
Why did you want to work at the Law Library of Congress?
The Law Library is a unique research institution with a world renowned collection of almost unlimited resources. If there is a place for a legal scholar to work, it is here. Every morning when I go up Capitol Hill I feel that my dreams came true and I see the opportunity to be here and share my knowledge with the Library’s patrons as a privilege. As an immigrant and U.S. citizen, I am happy that by working at the Library I can do my best in serving this country and its people.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library?
Many people who were interviewed for this blog mentioned the richness of the collection. I would like to bring attention to the fact that the Library’s treasures are open to all. There are few restrictions on the use of materials from the Library’s collection, and all of our staff work diligently on implementing new programs that will make our collection even more accessible to readers. Many visitors are amazed by the fact that anyone from every corner of our planet regardless of citizenship, education, or profession can come to the Law Library, make a phone call, or send an email, and the Law Library’s specialists will provide this person with a comprehensive, and authoritative solution to the question. We will help to locate the applicable law of a jurisdiction, explain how it works, recommend literature, and even make a few copies if necessary. Needless to say, assistance is provided free of charge, and no inquiry is lost or left unanswered.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
When I started to work at the Library fifteen years ago, then-Director of Legal Research, Dan Zafren, who was a big fan of Yorkshire terriers, introduced me to this breed of dogs. Not long ago, I got my own yorkie. Maybe there is something about this position?
Dear Peter Roudik,
I have read with great interest your paper on “FALQs: Soviet Investigation of Nazi War Crimes” from 2015. You mention the «Decree of the USSR Supreme Council Presidium of April 19, 1943». Are you aware that the Japanese “scientists who were condemned during the Kabharovsk trial were conficted under the same decree? I do not read Russian but I understand from your paper that the decree is targetting ” German and Fascist Villains”. Does it include the Japanese? It would seem important to clarify this element as the Kabharovsk trials are mostly ignored in comparison with the Nuremberg Trials even though the atrocities they are addreessing are of the same nature and intensity.
Thank you for your feedback
Response from Peter: That is a great question, Mr. Sprumont. Thank you. You are correct in saying that the 12 Japanese military officers who were tried in December 1949 by the military tribunal in Khabarovsk for developing and using bacteriological weapons were accused of committing crimes identified under paragraph 1 of the USSR Supreme Soviet Decree of April 19, 1943. The Decree prescribed the death penalty (by hanging) for “German, Italian, Romanian, Hungarian, and Finnish fascist villains who have committed murders and tortures of Soviet civil population and Red Army soldiers.” The Decree did not mention Japanese villains, and the Japanese military was not involved in murdering or torturing Soviet people. It appears that the Decree was used by analogy, and all of the accused persons confessed to committing crimes identified by the Decree. Because the death penalty had been abolished in the Soviet Union at this time, all of them were given prison terms ranging from 2 to 25 years. Materials from the trial were published in 1950 by the Soviet government and later republished in Japan. You can find them in the Library of Congress collections.