Tribal Court

The constitution and by-laws adopted by the Sac and Fox Nation in 1885 provided for judicial system that included a Supreme Court and "such circuit courts as the national council establishes."

Three judges heard civil cases at the nation's seat of government, the old Sac and Fox Agency South of Stroud in Indian Territory.

"The court established under the Governing of this Nation, shall have jurisdiction of all suits rising under the Constitutional laws of the Sac and Fox Nation."

Chapter 3, Article 1, Section 2,
Sac and Fox Constitution, c. 1885

The century between 1885 and 1985 records an uneven pattern of justice in Indian Country and several opposing decisions by the United States Court changed the direction of Indian justice many times. Attempts at tribal courts and governments administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, including the Court of Indian Offenses, were unsuccessful.

SUPREME COURT:
Five justices serve the court and elect a Chief Justice from among themselves. The Justices are selected by the Business Committee, confirmed by the Governing Council and serve six year terms. The Supreme Court meets as often as needed to consider cases brought before it.

Section 201. General Provisions

The Supreme Court may hear appeals resulting from all final orders or judgments rendered by the District Court appeals of other orders of the District Court subject to interlocutory appeal by law, and such original actions as may be provided by tribal law, and shall render its decision in writing to the parties of interest, file a copy thereof in the Supreme Court Clerk's office and the Tribal Secretary's office, and at the time of filing, submit a copy to the official reporter of the decisions of the Court. The decision of the Supreme Court shall be final and binding upon the parties.
{History: Public Law #SF-85-59, June 21, 1985.}

Section 203. Minimum Qualifications of Justices

Per Sac and Fox Code of Laws Title 9, Section 203, to be eligible for selection or confirmation as a Justice of the Supreme Court, a person shall:

(a) be either
(1) an enrolled member of the Tribe, or
(2) the parent, child, or spouse of an enrolled member of the Tribe, or
(3) actually domiciled within the territorial jurisdiction of the Tribe, or
(4) an attorney, or
(5) a lay advocate who has regularly practiced before the Court as a member of
the Bar of the Court for a period of seven years, or
(6) an Indian graduate of an American Bar Association approved Law
School, or a Paralegal program approved by the Supreme Court; and

(b) have demonstrated moral integrity and fairness in his business, public and private life, and

(c) have never been convicted of a felony or an offense punishable by banishment or involving moral turpitude, whether or not actually imprisoned or banished, and have not been convicted of any offense, except traffic offenses, for a period of five years next preceding his appointment. The five year period shall begin to run from the date the person was unconditionally released from supervision of any sort as a result of a conviction.

(d) have regularly abstained from the excessive use of alcohol and any use whatsoever of illegal drugs or psychotoxic chemical solvents.

(e) be not less than thirty (30) years of age.

(f) not be a member of the Tribal Legislative Body, or the holder of any other elective Tribal Office of this Tribe, provided, that a candidate who is a member of the Tribal Legislative Body, or the holder of some other elective Tribal Office, may be confirmed as a Justice subject to his resignation. Upon resignation from his office, he may be sworn in as and assume the duties of judicial office.

(g) if less than fifty (50) years of age, have completed at least sixty (60) semester credit hours at an accredited college or university, or at least four years of previous experience as a Judicial Officer for some recognized Court.
{History: Public Law #SF-85-59, June 21, 1985}

By tribal law the Sac and Fox Supreme Court meets on the first Monday of October to decide cases that are appealed from other courts. They may also meet at other times during the year, as needed.

DISTRICT COURT:
The District Court is a general trial court that consists of a Chief Judge and such district judges as may be appointed according to law. Judges are selected by the Business Committee, confirmed by the Governing Council and serve six year terms. The District Court meets as often as needed to consider cases brought before it.

Per Sac and Fox Code of Laws, Title 9, Section 203, the minimum qualifications of a Judge of the District Court, is as follows:

Section 102. Minimum Qualifications of Judge of the District Court

A Judge shall:

(a) be either

(1) an enrolled member of the Tribe, or
(2) the parent, child, or spouse of an enrolled member of the Tribe, or
(3) actually domiciled within the territorial jurisdiction of the Tribe, or
(4) an attorney, or
(5) a lay advocate who has regularly practiced before the Court as a member of the Bar of the Court for a period of five years, or
(6) an Indian graduate of an American Bar Association approved Law School, or a Paralegal program approved by the Supreme Court; and


(b) have demonstrated moral integrity and fairness in his business, public and private life, and

(c) have never been convicted of a felony or an offense punishable by banishment, whether or not actually imprisoned or banished, and have not been convicted of any offense, except traffic offenses, for a period of two years next preceding his appointment. The two year period shall begin to run from the date the person was unconditionally released from supervision of any sort as a result of a conviction.

(d) have regularly abstained from the excessive use of alcohol and any use whatsoever of illegal drugs or psychotoxic chemical solvents.

(e) be not less than twenty-five (25) years of age.

(f) not be a member of the Tribal Legislative Body, or the holder of any other elective Tribal Office of this Tribe, provided, that a candidate who is a member of the Tribal Legislative Body, or the holder of some other elective Tribal Office, may be confirmed as a Judge subject to his resignation. Upon resignation from his office, he may be sworn in as and assume the duties of judicial office.

(g) if less than fifty (50) years of age, have completed at least thirty (30) semester credit hours at an accredited college or university, or at least two years of previous experience as a Judicial Officer for some recognized Court.

(History: PUBLIC LAW #sf-85-59, JUNE 21, 1985)



JUSTICE FOR A NATION: How the Sac and Fox Court System Works ......

JURISDICTION:
Generally, the jurisdiction of the court extends to activities which occur on Indian Country within the boundaries of the Sac and Fox reservation as established by the Treaty of 1891. Indian Country is defined by federal statute as including reservation lands, individual and tribal trust lands and dependent Indian communities.

The jurisdiction of the court is extended to include all Sac and Fox children in certain types of juvenile cases by the federal and state Indian Child Welfare Acts. The jurisdiction is determined by where the activity occurs, what the activity is and who did the activity. In some instances, the jurisdiction extends to non Indians and, as provided by the Indian Child Welfare Acts, for example, beyond the reservation boundaries.

PROCEDURE:
The Sac and Fox Tribal Court procedure is set by the Sac and Fox Code of Laws which provides for two courts, the lower or District Court and the upper or Supreme Court.

First judges installed to the Sac and Fox Court in 1985
Supreme Court
Amos Black
Eldgridge Onco
Geoffrey Standing Bear
Marvin Stepson
Leon Wakolee

District Court
Judy Lewis
Philip Lujan
Thomas Morris Jr.
Lawrence Wahpepah
Bob Wood
Miles Zimmerman

Current judges to the Sac and Fox Court

Supreme Court
Chief Justice, O. Joseph Williams
Vice Chief Justice, Timothy Posey
Justice, Larry K. Lenora
Justice, Barbara A. Dakin

District Court
Chief Judge, Darrell Dowty
Judge, Michael C. Smith
Judge, Jon D. Douthitt

Judge Charles Tate
Judge, Darell Matlock Jr.

Current Court Personnel:

Gregory H Bigler, Attorney General
D. Michael McBride III, Tribal Attorney
Charlotte Cartwright, Court Administrator
Audrey Mitchell, Deputy

COURT PERSONNEL:
The Code of Laws provides that the officers of the court will include trained Court Clerks, who process, file and record cases and transcripts, and Bailiffs, who maintain order in the courtroom.

The Attorney General, named by the Business Committee, serves as prosecutor for the court and is supported by Assistant Attorneys General, also appointed by the Business Committee, as needed.

TRADITIONAL AND STATUTORY BALANCE:
There is a definite traditional Indian orientation to the Sac and Fox Court System and the laws it upholds.

The Sac and Fox Code calls for banishment as punishment for certain offenses and both trained attorneys and laymen serve as judges at all levels to form a traditional and statutory judicial balance.

"In matters not covered by tribal statute, the court shall apply traditional tribal customs and usages, which are called common law. When doubt as to Tribal Common Law, the court may request the advise of counselors and tribal elders familiar with them. In any dispute not covered by the tribal constitution, tribal statute or tribal common law, the court may apply any laws of the United States or any State which would be cognizable in the courts of general jurisdiction therein, and any regulation of the Department of the Interior which may be general or specific applicability."

Title 9, Section 8, Sac and Fox Code, c. 1885

A HISTORY RENEWED ........
One hundred years after its citizens adopted their first written constitution and laws in Indian Territory, the Sac and Fox Nation re established a complete court system. The Sac and Fox Business Committee signed the legislation on July 5, 1985 and on the same day adopted a Code of Laws.

Work to re establish the court system after 100 year hiatus, grew out of a constitutional revision committee that began meeting in 1972. From that early work came the Sac and Fox Law and Order Committee, who in the early 1980's, expanded its role to include recommending legislation for adoption into tribal law as wen as the writing a new constitution. Hundreds of hours of work by these committees, all tribal members, resulted in the development of the courts and the Code of Laws under which it operates.

The first session of the new Sac and Fox Court held on tribal land was August 22, 1985 when 13 cases were heard by the Honorable Thomas Morris, Jr., Magistrate. The Sac and Fox Court system was the first fully implemented tribal court in operation in the state of Oklahoma.