• Image about Mongolia
Visiting Texas, Mongolian judicial leaders Dr. Biraa Chimid and Gombosuren Ganzorig meet with Judge Spurlock.
Van Ditthavong
Thus it was with the Mongols. From rulers of the world they had slipped almost into obscurity; a people lost in the backwashes of civilization, as were so many barbarians of the steppes before them. Ruled by the Qing Dynasty of China as a vassal state from 1691 to 1911, then dominated by the Soviets from 1922 to 1991, they had not been self-governing for more than 300 years. During this time, the world exploded in inventions and in commercial practices to leap past them in sophistication, economics and social structures as if they were standing still.

In recent history, they were living as serfs in a feudal state under the rule of warlords and priests during Chinese rule; then, they were only collectivist worker bees in a Soviet socialist system. The capitalism and democracy they adopted in 1992 were as foreign to their past experiences as laser communications and satellite phones at first are to jungle dwellers. Desperately, they needed help from knowledgeable foreigners to kick-start the democratic institutions.

To overcome this lack of knowledge about operating a democracy, the modern Mongols turned their faces to the west, just as their ancestors did. Only this time, they were not seeking to conquer the lands in which they traveled but to mine the riches of knowledge from Western nations to implement democracy in order to gain the peace, freedom and material goods those states have and produce.

As a teacher, I was fortunate to be asked to accompany them on some of their journeys. I turned my face toward that place east of Eden, and set out to learn what I could to be an effective guide on the Mongols’ path to their democratic future.

During the nine trips to Mongolia I’ve made since 2000, and in hosting nine summer training visits to the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law by more than 60 Mongols during that time, they’ve made remarkable improvements in their judiciary. They have adopted a new criminal-­procedure code, an administrative judicial code and a new prosecutor’s code, and they have reorganized the General Council for Courts. They’ve also begun a system of publishing the results of higher-court decisions with some binding precedential value for lower courts. These reforms are continuing as they work to end the corrupting symbiotic relationship, a vestige of the Soviet system, of the prosecutors’ connection to the judges, creating new independence for the judiciary.

There is a long way to go. My friend Jim Barlow, a lawyer of good reputation and my former law-school roommate, once asked me: “Say, when are those Mongols ever going to get their democracy working right?”

I replied: “Well, we’ve been at ours since 1789. Is ours ‘right’ yet?” He just walked away in contemplative silence.

A good lawyer, Jim realized democracy is hard to get, and maybe, just maybe, harder to keep.

JUDGE JOE SPURLOCK II is the director of the Asian Judicial Institute at Texas Wesleyan University and a senior judge of Texas. He is a former member of the Texas House of Representatives, and he served as judge of the 231st District Court and later as a justice on the 2nd Court of Appeals of Texas in Fort Worth.