May 1 is Law Day, a day designed to commemorate and better understand the role of courts in government. Law Day was officially started in 1958 with a proclamation issued by President Dwight Eisenhower.
This year’s Law Day event was the first to be celebrated in several years on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
“The last Law Day [event] was [organized] by former Chief Judge Delbert Ray, Sr. over three years ago. His intention at the time was to have one every year and keep it going, but as busy as things have gotten, we were unable to do one every year. I am hoping [that] after this year we can continue to keep doing this,” said SRPMIC Chief Judge Ryan Andrews.
Those who attended were able to learn about various agencies that all play a role in the Community’s legal process. Departments and divisions represented at the event included the Tribal Court, law enforcement, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Legal Services Office, the Defense Advocate’s Office and the Office of General Counsel.
During a special ceremony, Andrews swore in judges Victor Antone, Juanita James, Kristina Kalka, Bonnie Makil and Joseph Manuel. Prior to the swearing-in ceremony, SRPMIC President Diane Enos gave some opening remarks.
“I would like to acknowledge all of the judges here today. Our Community is very fortunate to have the talent that we have here in our Community Court and the systems that operate in our court,” said Enos. “We’re putting our heads together and our minds together and our good hearts together to make sure we have the best court that we can for today and tomorrow, [and] that the people of this Community will be served, as well as our customers that may come through the court systems. I would like to thank the current chief judge for his leadership in making sure the Council works together with the court to make these good things happen.”
Andrews then presented some background on the SRPMIC Tribal Court and explained how its departments and divisions work together.
“The Tribal Court is charged with providing a forum for dispute resolution and enforcement of agreements, obligations or related matters. It handles criminal matters, alleged violations of civil laws and codes, and juvenile matters where minors have allegedly violated laws, rules, codes or otherwise have become involved in the court system,” explained Andrews.
The Tribal Court was established in 1957. At that time it had only one judge and an unknown number of clerical staff. Originally located at the Records Division of the Salt River Police Department, next to the Presbyterian Church, it was moved to the current building in the early 1990s. The Tribal Court will be moving to the new building adjacent to the Two Waters Building in the near future.
Cases and Court Operations
Civil cases include tort, restitution, family or divorce, personal property, probate and non-criminal traffic cases. Criminal cases include criminal traffic, sexual offenses and crimes against minors, domestic violence and criminal cases. Juvenile court cases include truancy, wards of the courts and dependency cases.
There is also drug court geared toward juveniles, which is a yearlong program with mandatory weekly activities that include drug screenings, cultural-awareness activities, court appearances and behavioral health group meetings.
The chief judge oversees the activities of the associate judges and also handles cases in addition to his or her administrative duties. The associate judges hear cases, make rulings and oversee their courtroom activities. The court clerks process the filed paperwork relating to the court cases.
Other staff members of the Tribal Court include bailiffs, probation officers, court administrators, court solicitors and administrative support staff. Bailiffs maintain order in the court. Probation officers prepare pre-sentencing investigative reports to assist the judges in deciding on fair, reasonable and appropriate sentences for guilty parties in criminal cases. The court administrators are responsible for all the non-judicial activities, such as staff training and development, case-flow management, budget development and monitoring, and overall strategic planning. The court solicitors conduct legal research, work on special projects, and provide other assistance to the judges. Administrative staffers handle court operations including payroll, purchasing, procurement, check processing and child-support payments.