Honored with renaming of law center, Kozolchyk discusses trade, identity

Tucson Tikkun Community member Michael Rohrbach (left) and Billie Kozolchyk enjoy her husband Boris’ comments in his talk at a Tucson Tikkum Community meeting held May 28 at the Sonora Cohousing multipurpose room. (Korene Charnofsky Cohen)

There is hope for better international trade relations if leaders will adhere to basic ideas of fairness, good faith and honesty, says Boris Kozolchyk, S.J.D., a world-renowned expert on international banking and commercial law. He is the founder of the National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade, a nonprofit organization that  was renamed May 30 as the Kozolchyk National Law Center, following his retirement last year after 48 years as the Evo DeConcini Professor of Law at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.

Speaking to a gathering of 15 people at the May 28 meeting of the Tucson Tikkun Community, Kozolchyk said his parents and Jewish values helped form his philosophy.

The Tucson Tikkun Community was founded in 2005 on the initiative of the late Rabbi Joseph Weizenbaum, inspired by the interfaith spiritual activism of Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun Magazine, says Michael Zaccaria, a cofounder along with his wife, Marcia. Kozolchyk’s talk was part of the organization’s series of programs on identity. Speakers have included a South Asian-American, Black-Americans, a Muslim-American and several people with immigrant experiences, says Zaccaria.

“We listen to each other without judging another person’s perspective,” says Marcia Zaccaria. “We try to create an atmosphere of safety where people feel safe expressing their views and feelings.”

Kozolchyk identifies himself as an optimist, and says that identity is created, in part, by culture and biology. His parents were from Krinik, a shtetl (small town) outside of Bialystok, Poland.  During the 1920s and early 1930s, the family immigrated to Cuba. Kozolchyk was born in Havana in 1934 and immigrated to the United States in 1956 to attend law school.

“My family migrated from Poland because of anti-Semitism and inequality, but there also was anti-Semitism in Cuba,” says Kozolchyk. “My mother was bothered by issues of inequality, and was very concerned with all the poverty in Cuba. She became a socialist because she thought that they would create an egalitarian society.”

His father was a peddler who eventually started a successful retail and wholesale business. There was a Jewish population of about 20,000 Jews in Cuba, and Kozolchyk attended a Jewish school, one of three in the capital. His father discouraged him from going into law in Cuba because there was too much corruption.

Kozolchyk was influenced by the teachings of Hillel, the Jewish sage of the first century B.C.E., who advocated being reasonable in dealing with people, espousing the need to be altruistic — being good to others, but also being good to yourself. He describes Hillel’s approach to law as hard lines modified by curves, and says this idea is symbolized in the straight and curved lines of the Supreme Court building in Israel.

Ideas of the biologist E. O. Wilson also contribute to Kozolchyk’s approach to law and life. Wilson described animal societies, such as ants and bees, as the most successful because they exhibit the most cooperation.  Wilson advocated the need to combine altruism and egotism because people need to look after themselves and their interests as well as the interests of others, and altruistic groups do better than selfish groups because they have more cooperation.

“People need to combine the right forces to succeed,” says Kozolchyk.  “These include trust, honesty, reasonableness, and fairness.” He adds that it is the responsibility of lawyers to be the guardians of good faith.

Kozolchyk has pioneered the use of standard and best commercial practices as tools for economic development throughout the world, and has represented the United States in drafting treaties and uniform laws at the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, the Organization of American States and the International Chamber of Commerce. He was the principal drafter of the Uniform Customs and Practices for Documentary Credits, introducing the international standard banking practice as the tool for the examination of letter of credit documents, which is followed worldwide. He has authored influential commercial law textbooks and has received numerous awards for his publications.

Founded in 1992, the newly renamed Kozolchyk National Law Center, which is affiliated with the UA law school, has become the leading institution in the drafting and implementation of commercial laws and compilations of customs aimed at fostering economic development, especially for small and medium sized businesses around the world.

Although Kozolchyk does not see the element of good faith practiced as much in government and business in the United States today, he remains optimistic.

“I am very proud of my work,” says Kozolchyk. “I hope that people around the world are able to cooperate. Cooperation works, and it is a good legacy.”

Korene Charnofsky Cohen is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson.