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Carla McEwen Selected to Give Sentencing Opinion in Major Brazilian Supreme Court Case

October 25, 2012

McEwen Brazil Case

Thomas Jefferson School of Law Brazilian Program Director Carla McEwen was recently selected from among hundreds of thousands of Brazilian attorneys to be one of seven lawyers who gave their sentencing opinions to Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court in the biggest national corruption case in that country’s history – the Mensalãocase.

Here is her personal account of the events, which unfolded in court on October 24:

“On October 24th, I had the most extraordinary experience in my life at the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court . The justices fought among themselves. It was a big scandal.

I observed with admiration the utterance of the votes of the Minister Dias Toffoli. His legalistic, formal and observance of constitutional principles , the adversarial due process to guide the decisions, proved to be compatible with the US Legal System thus his candor with the others Supreme Court judges was impeccable.

Indeed, there is a rigorous analysis of the criminal evidence.  The whole evidence must be applied uncontested and beyond reasonable doubt.

The legal system cannot condemn someone based upon assumptions and hearsay. There is a need for material evidence, irrefutable proof, the maximum force in dubio pro defendant.

What I could see is that some are condemned to serve the clamor of the media and the public, which has almost no legal knowledge.

So consider the position and candor of Minister Dias Toffoli unpolluted and consistent with American judges. My opinion is based on his decision.”

For more background, please read the original story below:

There are roughly 800,000 thousand lawyers in Brazil, and only seven of them have been selected to advise Brazil’s highest court on the biggest corruption case in that country’s history. Only one of the lawyers selected is female and she is Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s own Carla McEwen, the director of TJSL’s Brazilian Programs. McEwen is also the youngest attorney selected.

The seven attorneys were selected by the Supreme Federal Court judges from a list of 50 names submitted by Brazilian bar associations to write opinions for the judges on the sentencing of the defendants in what is called the Mensalao case. 

McEwen believes her association with Thomas Jefferson School of Law is an important part of the reason she was selected.

“Everybody knows TJSL in the Brazilian legal community,” McEwen says.  It’s because of the LEEP Program TJSL operates in cooperation with the Brazilian legal system. LEEP (Legal Education and Exchange Program ) has brought dozens of Brazilian attorneys to TJSL to study the U.S. legal system. A number of TJSL faculty also have been on goodwill missions to Brazil, including Professor Thom Golden, who even had a chance to meet with the country’s acting president while he was there.

Professor Golden made a lot of new friends for TJSL, according to McEwen. “He is a big hit in Brazil, I can tell you that,” she says.

There were a total of 37 defendants in the Mensalao case, which involved a system of bribery where members of the ruling party were literally buying votes from members of other parties in the National Congress. Some of the defendants were found not guilty, but the majority were convicted.

McEwen and the other six lawyers will be reviewing the guilty verdict decisions of the Supreme Court judges and writing opinions on the sentencing for those who were convicted.  “We have our voice as attorneys,” McEwen says. “The opinions are non-binding, but will carry weight with the court in the final sentences.”

“I will do my duty as an officer of the law,” McEwen says, noting that even though many defendants may be guilty of the same crime, some may receive different sentences. “The greater the degree of power, the greater the responsibility and the greater the sentence will be for misconduct.”

McEwen is a member of the Sao Paolo Bar Association, the largest in Brazil, and says she has no conflicts of interest with the convicted defendants, who are some of the most powerful names in Brazilian politics.

“I have learned quite a bit about the American justice system while here at TJSL,” McEwen says. “They wanted someone from outside the country who has a different perspective and knows U.S. concepts of justice.”

McEwen traveled to Brazil on October 18 and the sentencing will take place the following week in the country’s capital, Brasilia.