Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Superior Court Judge Judith Chirlin Narrowly Escapes Baghdad Blast
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Judith Chirlin, on a mission to evaluate aspects of the Iraqi legal system, left a United Nations office building in Baghdad less than two hours before it was bombed yesterday, her court clerk said.
Chirlin escaped injury in the suicide bombing, which claimed 20 lives and injured at least 100 people, many of them U.N. workers. Her clerk, Cindy Richard, said Chirlin called just before 10 a.m. to say she was safe and hoping to catch a plane to Jordan later in the day.
Chirlin, who has participated in other international law projects, left for Iraq somewhat suddenly on the weekend of Aug. 8, Richard said. She said the judge reported she had left the Canal Hotel about an hour and a half before the bombing.
The former hotel now functions as a United Nations office building, a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan told the MetNews. According to reports from the Associated Press, the detonation of a cement truck packed with explosives blasted a six-foot-deep crater in the ground and shredded the faÁade of the building.
Among those killed was Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, who was meeting in his office with other U.N. officials.
Richard and other associates of the judge contacted yesterday were not certain of the details of Chirlin’s mission in Iraq, and U.N. officials were unable to confirm them. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victor Chavez said he spoke with Chirlin on Saturday and learned she had been monitoring activities of an Iraqi bar association.
Chavez said he believed Chirlin was one of three judges—and the only American—asked by the U.N. to come to Baghdad. Chirlin told him she had observed violence during her stay, including the throwing of a grenade, Chavez said.
Richard said she had spoken with Chirlin Monday morning, when the judge called via satellite phone from the roof of the Canal Hotel. Chirlin told her during that call she could hear gunfire nearby, Richard said.
Richard described the judge’s visit as an attempt to assess the legal system in Iraq, and said she did not believe Chirlin had planned to leave Iraq so soon. But Superior Court spokesperson Allan Parachini said he understood the judge’s schedule called for her to leave Baghdad for London yesterday.
Parachini characterized the purpose of her visit as “to observe the justice system there.”
Neither Presiding Judge Robert Dukes nor Assistant Presiding Judge William A. McLaughlin could be reached for comment yesterday. Chavez said Chirlin’s absence from the court had been approved by McLaughlin.
Chavez noted that in 1997 Chirlin underwent emergency heart valve replacement surgery after collapsing while in Bulgaria to conduct a program under the Central European and East European Law Initiative. CEELI, a project run by the American Bar Association, promotes law reform in central and eastern Europe and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union.
At that time Chirlin nearly died and had to be resuscitated, Chavez recalled.
“She has nine lives and she’s used up some of them,” he commented.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company