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Tribal-State Judicial Consortium

Consorcio Judicial Tribal-Estatal

History of the Tribal-State Judicial Consortium

Julian and Maria Martinez displaying finished pottery, San Ildefonso Pueblo​Growing initially from a New Mexico Supreme Court initiative in 1997-1998, the Tribal-State Judicial Consortium was informally created as one of the Supreme Court’s advisory committees in November 2006. The Supreme Court appoints seven members to represent State Courts and recognizes seven appointments made by the New Mexico-Colorado Indian Court Judges Association representing the Tribal Courts of the nineteen Northern and Southern Pueblos and the four tribes located in New Mexico.

The Supreme Court directs the Consortium to strengthen relationships and foster communications between Tribal and State Courts through the development of basic information about each court, its laws, customs, and values.

Specifically, the Consortium serves to encourage and facilitate communication and collaboration between State and Tribal Court judges on common issues, focusing on domestic violence, domestic relations, child custody, child support, child abuse and neglect, and juvenile justice, and addressing issues of jurisdiction and sovereignty as the relate to each particular issue.

In the early years, the Consortium sponsored five Cross-Court Cultural Exchanges as a means to raise awareness and offer information about different State and Tribal justice systems and to foster relationships and communications.  

The exchanges were conducted in various regions, including:

  • Navajo Nation–Crownpoint District and the Eleventh Judicial District Court in Gallup
  • Pueblos of Isleta, Laguna, and Acoma and the Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque
  • Pueblos of Ohkay Owingeh, Nambé, Santa Clara, and Tesuque and the First District Court in Santa Fe
  • Four Corners Judicial and Law Enforcement Exchange in Albuquerque
  • Mescalero Apache Nation and the Twelfth Judicial District Court in Ruidoso

​​In May 2005, the Consortium conducted a summit on Full Faith and Credit to discuss barriers to the recognition of Tribal Court orders and examine ways to promote greater coordination and cooperation between the State and Tribes and Pueblos located in New Mexico to facilitate resolving jurisdictional issues.

In April 2006, the Consortium co-sponsored the annual meeting of the National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts. Participants at the event recognized that regardless of race or ethnicity, all shared the same goal of fair and impartial treatment in the Courts.

In March 2007, the Consortium began to promote a nationwide initiative called Project Passport, with the assistance of the National Center for State Courts. The project calls for the creation of a standard first page to use on orders of protection in cases of domestic violence. These pages are easily recognizable and enhance the ability of law enforcement to enforce State, Tribal and ‘foreign’ – that is, other states’ – orders. The Consortium conducted a meeting in January of 2008 of stakeholders, primarily focusing on State Courts, law enforcement and others to share information and obtain feedback on a draft first page to recommend to the Supreme Court. Later in 2008, the Consortium conducted three summer Regional Meetings at the Pueblos of Santa Clara and Zuni and in Farmington for the purpose of introducing Project Passport to Tribal Courts and Tribal law enforcement as well as other State Judges. A second series of Regional Meetings on Project Passport was conducted in the summer of 2009 at the Pueblos of Zia and Tesuque and also in Gallup. These meetings were co-sponsored by American University through the Criminal Courts Technical Assistance Project of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) at the US Department of Justice.

Since that time, the Supreme Court adopted a uniform first page for all State-issued protection orders, effective December 2008. Several Tribal Courts have also adapted the form for their own cases, including the Courts at the Pueblos of Laguna, Zuni, Nambé, Sandía, Santa Clara, and San Felipe and the Navajo Judicial Branch. Other Tribal Courts are considering implementation of a similar first page to better protect their members.

With the enactment of the Federal Adam Walsh Child Safety and Protection Act of 2006, the Consortium’s members became interested in the provisions calling for registration of sex offenders in Title I of the Act, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). The deadline for Tribes to substantially implement the bill was July 27, 2011. With assistance from American University and BJA, the Consortium sponsored two Regional Meetings in the summer of 2010 at the Pueblo of San Ildefonso and in Albuquerque. More than 160 individuals attended and learned more about the cross-jurisdictional issues arising from the differing SORNA codes used by the State of New Mexico and the various Tribes and Pueblos. They wanted to ensure that the Courts and law enforcement know how to handle these cases properly.

In 2011 and with the assistance of American University and BJA, the Consortium began to work on the issue of the Rights of Incarcerated Parents of Indian Children. Two Regional Meetings were conducted at Jemez and Laguna Pueblos during the summer. After a basic review of parents’ rights as set forth in the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), representatives of the State Children, Youth and Families Department, and the State Corrections Department provided information about their policies and procedures regarding visitation between parents in prison and their children, who were often removed from the family and placed with non-Tribal families, often never reunited with their birth parents. The idea of a Family or Tribal Impact Statement was developed for consideration by the Criminal Courts when handling this type of case.

The Consortium has co-sponsored other training events in the past few years, including the Tribal-State Judicial Symposium in September 2009 in conjunction with the National Tribal Judicial Center (part of the National Judicial College) focusing on cross-jurisdictional issues of states in the Four Corners area. In May 2010, the Consortium worked with the Southwest Meth & Pharmaceutical Initiative to provide training on drugs and drug trafficking on the reservation. Later in November of 2010, the Consortium worked with the National Center for State Courts on co-sponsoring the Southwest Regional State-Tribal Forum on Extending Project Passport, focusing again on cross-jurisdictional issues. Finally, in May 2012 the Consortium co-sponsored training on certain aspects of the ICWA in training called “Cultural Matters: Best Practices in Indian Child Welfare Cases.” Speakers focused on cultural/historical trauma, notice, placement preferences, and the qualified expert witness.

Finally, the Consortium assists Tribal Judges in obtaining training through the provision of Tribal Scholarships to participate in annual State Court training events. The scholarships have been provided from 2007 through 2012 to sponsor an average of fifteen of the Tribal Courts to attend the Judicial Conclave. In addition, another six or seven Tribal Judges have attended basic training provided by the National Judicial College at the annual Magistrate Judges Professional Development Conference since 2009. These may offer the only opportunity for State Courts to begin relationships with Tribal Courts in their area of the State and have proven to help educate State Judges on the growing Tribal system of criminal justice, while providing additional professional skills for the Tribal Courts.

Since the summer of 2012, the Consortium has turned its attention to new work on ICWA, including the development of a judicial bench card and best practices bulletin on notice and jurisdictional issues. Further work may include creation of a judicial bench book and clarification on the implementation of the placement preferences.

Additional attention is being focused on the implementation of Full Faith and Credit among the Tribal and State Courts. How frequently do the Courts recognize each other’s orders? Is there a need for new training on the issue? 

And finally, the Consortium wanted to improve the communications between Tribal and State Courts and decided to upgrade its website. We welcome your feedback on this site and hope you find it be useful.​