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Tulane, Dominican Republic partner to tackle corruption

February 26, 2014

Tulane Law School Assistant Dean Jim Letten (along with Professors Katherine Mattes and David Marcello) greets Dominican Supreme Court Justice Esther Agelan Casanovas.

Tulane Law School Assistant Dean Jim Letten (along with Professors Katherine Mattes and David Marcello) greets Dominican Supreme Court Justice Esther Agelan Casanovas.

Tulane Law is partnering with alumni and other leaders in the Dominican Republic to tackle knotty challenges relating to public corruption, a long-running drag on economic development in the Caribbean island nation.

At the invitation of law school alumni and other prominent Dominicans, a delegation of Tulane experts on public integrity, led by Assistant Dean Jim Letten (L '79) and Professor David Marcello (L '71), executive director of the Tulane Public Law Center, co-hosted a high-profile conference on corruption and government transparency in the Dominican capital in late January. They were joined by Professor Katherine Mattes, director of Tulane's Criminal Law Clinic, and Idella Wilson (L '88), assistant director of The Public Law Center.

Before joining Tulane last year, Letten was the U.S. Attorney in New Orleans for a dozen years, making him the nation's longest-serving U.S. Attorney, with the rare distinction of having been appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents. As a federal prosecutor, Letten led a series of high-profile public corruption prosecutions in Louisiana, including serving as lead trial counsel in the conviction of former Gov. Edwin Edwards.

Tulane's Public Law Center has spearheaded a host of initiatives promoting government transparency and accountability across its 25-year history. Marcello also leads Tulane's Legislative Advocacy Clinic.

The conference helped launch meetings with high-ranking Dominican judges, lawyers and public officials to discuss partnerships that are expected to strengthen Tulane Law School's significant Latin American presence. The potential collaboration includes internship opportunities for Tulane law students at the Dominican Republic's Supreme Court.

Dominican attorney Ramón A. Lantigua, who received a Tulane LLM in 2013, initiated the conference to focus attention on effective legal responses to public corruption and to promote the relationship between Tulane and the region "through meaningful exchange of knowledge, information and mutual support," he said.

Lantigua, a U.S. Army veteran and experienced litigator, said the goal of hosting the Tulane delegation was to get people together for "meaningful discussions about common issues. The conversations produced "incredible synergy between the participants," he said.

The activities follow on relationships in the Dominican built by Professor Colin Crawford, executive director of Tulane Law School's Payson Center for International Development. As a Fulbright Scholar in Santo Domingo in 2007, Crawford taught environmental law and policy courses to science and engineering professionals as well as government and legal officials. Later, through a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development/Higher Education for Development (US AID/HED), he developed extensive educational materials that are being used to improve the teaching of environmental education in five countries that are signatories to the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement.

During the January visit, the Tulane delegation hosted a reception for Tulane Law alumni in the Dominican Republic. The occasion also marked the launch of the Institute of Comparative Studies of Dominican Republic (INESCO-DR), a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting development of the law in the country and region. Lantigua is president of INESCO-DR, and his law partner César Castillo Jiménez is vice president.

Letten called the trip "a resounding success and another groundbreaking step forward for both Tulane and our Latin American neighbors."


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