Judge Orhan Karabacak chooses Penn State for preservation research

Judge Orhan Karabacak arrived on the bench by way of tax and to central Pennsylvania by way of Turkey. He is visiting Penn State from Sakarya University, where he is writing a doctoral thesis on the role of the state in preserving cultural and natural heritage sites. Karabacak is a member of YARSAV, an organization of judges and prosecutors that seeks justice through an objective and independent judiciary.
Turkey is home to ten properties on UNESCO's World Heritage List and twenty-six tentative sites, including the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, Bergama (collections of remains dating back to Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman times), and Alanya, (a castle that extends into the Mediterranean Sea). Preserving these sites is one of modern Turkey's biggest challenges.
“Cultural and natural properties are at different kinds of risks,” Karabacak said. “The biggest and most common threat results from the wishes of modern life. There are different ideas and methods to preserve these values. The purpose of my work is to study the United States and European administrative law approaches to preserving natural and cultural heritage.” He adds that there is very little research on this subject in Turkey. “The Western experience about preserving historical and natural legacies will certainly be very helpful for Turkish administrative law. When the integration of Turkey to the European Union is considered, the importance of this study will be clear.”
From taxation to law

Karabacak was a tax inspector in Ankara when he decided to sit for the exam that would enable him to be a judge. While he enjoyed tax work, he wanted his career to make a difference in people's lives. “I studied day and night for a year to be a judge,” said Karabacak, who has a B.S. in international relations and an M.S. in public administration. Out of the 5,000 people who took the judicial exam, Karabacak placed twentieth. His score enabled him to begin a two-year judicial clerkship, after which the Ministry of Justice assigned him to the Administrative Court of Edirne and then to Rize—the court on which he sits and hears cases between individuals and the state.
Soon Karabacak was swamped with more than 1,000 cases per year. He regularly works until 9 p.m. and over weekends to devote enough time to each case. “If you want to sleep easily, you have to make a good decision on every case,” he said. “Your conscience is the most important thing in your life. You must be fair, just, and consistent.” In Turkey, decisions of the court of first instance are reviewable as a matter of right. The highest court in the state is the Turkish Council of State, also called the Supreme Administrative Court. Its decisions are advisory but not binding on lower courts.
In addition to his case load, Karabacak balances graduate school and a family. Karabacak's wife, who is a teacher, urged him to learn English to advance his scholarship. So, two years ago, in the midst of his judicial career, he decided to study English for the first time. He enrolled in an English course at Yeditepe University for 10 months and met Penn State Law Dean Philip McConnaughay, and Penn State Law Professors Karen Bysiewiczand William Fox when the trio visited for the Law School's Intensive Introduction to Legal English program in Istanbul. Karabacak applied to visit Penn State for a year to complete comparative law research.
“Penn State has a good international reputation and my doctoral advisor suggested I come here,” he said. He and his family arrived in January. He spends his time in the third floor of Lewis Katz Building, keeping up with work, video chatting with colleagues, and absorbing all he can about the U.S. judicial system and its administration.
“Everyone here has been helpful,” said Karabacak, who is pleased with his experience at Penn State so far. “I thank Professor Karen Bysiewicz and Dean McConnaughay for making sure I have everything I need to work. I am also very lucky to work with Professor Geoffrey Scott, who is a specialist on my subject.”

“We have never hosted a visiting judge from Turkey before,” explained Bysiewicz, who is the director of graduate and international programs at Penn State Law. “We are honored that he has chosen us, and we look forward to furthering connections with the judiciary in Turkey.”