Few people can say they have shaped the legal system of an entire country — even fewer people can say they’ve done it in two countries. As a Federal Judge, Bohdan Futey was one of only a handful of officials hearing the highest cases against the United States government, but as a proud Ukrainian American and legal expert, he also lent his pen to the writing of Ukraine’s constitution.
Born in Buchach, Ukraine during World War II, Futey, like many, immigrated to the United States by way of Western Europe and South America. From being a humble high school teacher in Cleveland, he quickly became a lawyer, then went on to government, and was finally nominated to the United States Court of Federal Claims by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. But despite his professional success and allegiance to the United States, Futey never let go of his love for Ukraine.
“When Ukraine became independent, it was like being born again,” Futey told Ukrainian Chicago.“U“krainians were no longer Russians, Ukrainians were no longer Soviets. Ukrainians were Ukrainians. And that meant to me that Ukrainians were giving us the opportunity to gain back our background, or place of birth. I felt like I had to do something for Ukraine, and help best in the areas that I could.
”Because of his expertise in American judicial matters and his life-long commitment to the Ukrainian cause, he was invited to help Ukraine draft its first constitution.
“I had the chance as someone who has a background in law, legal matters, to be part of the legal development of the country — that is, the drafting of the constitution of Ukraine. The process started immediately with the election of the first president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, then continued under president Kuchma, and I was fortunate enough to be part of the team, as an advisor to the working group on Ukraine’s constitution,” said Futey.
“The process I was involved with was very enjoyable, especially in the process of adopting Ukraine’s Constitution on June 28th, 1996 which, by the way, was my birthday, so I felt it a compliment to all my involvement in this work,” beamed Futey.
Futey has also lent his expertise to work with the U.S. and internationally-based organizations in Ukraine like the International Foundation for Election Systems, the International Republican Institute, USAID, the United States’ Justice and State Departments, and as an observer for every election since Ukraine’s independence. He says what is most rewarding, though, is working with students at universities across Ukraine, especially the Kyiv-Mohyla Law School where he has been on the faculty for twelve years.
Whether it be in front of his students, or with a government working group, Futey not only enjoys drawing parallels between Ukraine and the United States, he is also a scholar of Ukrainian history — a source he feels Ukraine has plenty of democratic experience to draw from.
“I always try to compliment Ukrainians for what they had achieved in the past, because when you look at constitutions, well, Ukraine can say it had the constitution of Pylyp Orlyk in 1710,” said Futey, of the Cossack document widely regarded as the first democratic constitution in the modern world.
“At that time, in 1710, the constitution contained such things as the separation of powers. It had a separate, independent judicial body and also a concept of private ownership of property. It was very important. This came almost eighty years before the Constitution of the United States of America.”
Futey said that he encourages Ukrainian legal experts to take those examples seriously, and draw from them.
“I even read an article that it took someone to come from the United States of America, of Ukrainian descent, to remind us to bring back the constitution of Pylyp Orlyk,” laughed Futey.
He believes that attitudes from the Soviet Union era are what hold Ukraine back from embracing a democratic constitution, and that those attitudes are what have contributed to Ukraine’s struggles with corruption.
“The concept of checks and balances has never been established in practice as it has [in the United States]. Though we talk about it all the time, it is not realized. Still, the mentality is that that of old Soviet System, which many people still cherish, unfortunately, and do not expect those things to be there,” said Futey.
When checks and balances are not enforced between branches of government, and those branches cannot function independently within the framework of a constitution, Futey believes that judges are the first to be coerced into acting unconstitutionally. He points to examples under the administration of former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who passed laws that contradicted the constitution, but were ruled constitutional by judges anyway. Futey believes this kind of corruption is what led to both 2004’s Orange Revolution and last winter’s Revolution of Dignity, otherwise known as the Euromaidan.
“Regarding the legal system in Ukraine, there is more acknowledgement in what the system is and what its problems are, and how those problems have developed, and what must be done to improve or reverse that trend,” said Futey about changes he’s seen in Ukraine since drafting the first constitution.
“They started during the Orange Revolution, in 2004. Unfortunately, they did not materialize because many people were disappointed that the hopes engendered by the Orange Revolution did not meet expectations. So people started losing some faith, but the concept was there. … But with the Revolution of Dignity, there was revival of the expectations people had with the Orange Revolution, and what it means to have an independent country, what it means to have an independent judiciary, what it means to have democracy, what it means to have a rule of law. Basically, people started talking about what they could do about all of it, to improve all of it,” said Futey.
“Since the Revolution of Dignity, the present government is moving in the direction of changing the constitution, and (current Ukrainian) President Poroshenko by decree has established a new constitutional commission with the mandate to amend three areas of the constitution. The aim is to make it more democratic and closer to international standards as Ukraine moves forward into European integration.”
Futey was assigned by President Poroshenko to work on reforming the constitution he helped write nearly two decades ago. The commission Futey is part of is tasked to advance the causes of judicial independence, the implementation of individual rights and government decentralization, as mandated by ceasefire agreements around today’s war in Eastern Ukraine.
As much as he can personally contribute to constitutional reforms, though, he feels that some of the reforms have to be accomplished with a sense of personal responsibility by government officials.
“Judicial independence does not mean that judges do as they choose, but that they do as they must in accordance with the laws and constitution of the country. Judicial independence, in the final analysis, will depend on the conscience and courage of the judges themselves. I’ve always said that the judges will not be respected until the judges respect themselves,” said Futey.
While Futey continues to offer his professional expertise to the Ukrainian cause, he encourages other Ukrainian Americans to do the same with their talents.
“This is my feeling to do something for Ukraine, because Ukraine has always done something for me,” said Futey, suggesting that all Ukrainian-Americans owe something to Ukraine.
“We have professors, engineers, businessmen, doctors, physicians that are trying to help, by doing their thing to help Ukraine. That is very good, and I’m certain there will be more and more people,” he added.
Futey even suggests that people can help Ukraine and Ukrainians learn the Western way of life by offering them mentorship in the United States.
“I have taken, as a judge in the court, three or four interns from Ukraine every year for the past fifteen or twenty years. I am trying to help them out with the knowledge of law in this country, and the legal proceedings that we have, court work, etc., so when they get back they will have that experience.”
He credits organizations like the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, the Ukrainian American Veterans, the Ukrainian Women’s League of America for inspiring people to follow a similar example, and he’s particularly glad with how his family has embraced the Ukrainian cause as well.
“I am very proud that my children and grandchildren all went to Ukrainian Saturday school and graduated from these schools, and that they’re very much involved with the Ukrainian life in the diaspora, and contributing to what’s happening in Ukraine in their own ways, for Ukraine to benefit from their experience, and to benefit from Ukraine as a democratic country.”
In particular, he commends his wife, Myroslava, for giving up her time and talents as the first secretary to Ukraine’s first ambassador to the United States, as well as volunteering at the Ukrainian Consulate in Washington D.C. for 20 years. Futey is also proud of how his son, Andrew, has followed in his pro-Ukrainian footsteps as Executive Vice President of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America.
“I’m very proud of the work they do, and hopefully the work they continue doing. This is for the benefit of all of us,” said Futey.
Єдиний українець, призначений на посаду судді Федерального суду США безпосереднім рішенням американського президента. Знаний та шанований правник-науковець, що викладає у найбільш престижних університетах світу. Практик, що у 1996 році допомагав творити Конституцію України. Заступник голови однієї з найбільш потужних організації української діаспори — Українського конгресового комітету. Все це — про Богдана Футея.
Через два десятиліття його знову долучили до роботи над текстом основного українського закону — у травні президент Порошенко призначив пана Богдана консультантом Конституційної комісії.
Народився Богдан Футей під час Другої світової війни у маленькому містечку Бучачі, що на Тернопільщині. Але його родина, як і багато інших тоді, була змушена іммігрувати до Сполучених Штатів. Наполегливо працюючи, тут він пройшов шлях від скромного шкільного учителя в Клівленді до призначення федеральним суддею. Втім, проживши більшість життя у США, каже, він ні на мить не переставав любити Україну.
“Коли Україна стала незалежною, вона ніби народилася заново. Українці більше не було росіянами, так само як не були більше й “совками’’. Українці були українцями. І я відчував, що повинен робити щось для України, бути корисним у тій сфері, де міг», — розповів Богдан Футей Ukrainian Chicago.
Завдяки досвіду в американських судових справах та прихильності до України, пана Богдана запросили допомогти Україні підготувати її першу Конституцію.
“Я отримував задоволення від цього процесу. Особливо приємним був день ухвалення Конституції України — 28 червня 1996 року. Цього дня у мене День народження, так що тоді мав відчуття, ніби це комплімент за мою участь у роботі”, — пригадує Футей.
Нині він знову консультує Україну у її прагненні до змін — ближче до демократії та міжнародних стандартів. Говорить, що у цьому непростому процесі велике значення має особиста відповідальність представників влади.
“Судова незалежність не означає, що судді роблять те, що їм заманеться, але вчиняють так, як повинні, відповідно до законів і Конституції. Незалежність суддів, в кінцевому рахунку, залежатиме від совісті й мужності самих суддів. Я завжди говорив, що суддів не будуть поважати, поки вони самі не почнуть поважати себе”, — зауважує доктор права.
Своїм прикладом Богдан Футей прагне надихнути й інших професіоналів серед американців українського походження долучатися до розбудови України:
“У нас є професори, інженери, бізнесмени, лікарі, які намагаються допомогти. Це дуже добре, і я впевнений, таких людей буде все більше і більше”.
Автор Юліян Гайда
Переклад Марічки Паплаускайте
Фото Максима Прокопіва