Published On: Thu, Apr 2nd, 2015

Tribal Court makes history

Cherokee Chief Justice Bill Boyum (left) speaks as the Cherokee Tribal Court opens a session of CVB Court, the first one ever in Indian Country, on Thursday, April 2 as Chief U.S. District Court Judge Frank Whitney looks on.  (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photos)

Cherokee Chief Justice Bill Boyum (left) speaks as the Cherokee Tribal Court opens a session of CVB Court, the first one ever in Indian Country, on Thursday, April 2 as Chief U.S. District Court Judge Frank Whitney looks on. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photos)

 

Court hosts first-ever CVB Court held in Indian Country

 

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 

The Cherokee Tribal Court did something on Thursday, April 2 that no other court in Indian Country has ever done before – open a CVB (Central Violation Bureau) session.  In a special event at the EBCI Justice Center, the Tribal Court celebrated the momentous occasion with various state and federal judicial officials.

CVB Court handles small, petty misdemeanor offenses that occur on federal lands.

“In the big scheme of things, where a District Court or a Magistrate’s Court is held, might not seem that important,” said Cherokee Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Boyum.  “And, unless you know what’s going on in Indian Country, it’s really not that important, but given what is going on in Indian Country, it is of the ultimate importance.”

Boyum added, “Given the fact that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) now allows Tribes the right to prosecute non-Indians and has opened the door for full sovereign independence for tribal courts, it means that we would be able to prosecute all folks on our reservation at some point in time.  VAWA has opened that door, and that means that we’re really going to have to work with federal courts.”

On the importance of the Cherokee Tribal Court hosting the CVB Court, Boyum stated, “There are no rules.  There are no laws.  There are no regulations.  There is no case law.  There are not even any policies or thought processes on how this kind of thing could happen because it’s never happened before.  On the bright side, there are no rules, policies or regulations to say it can’t happen.”

Last month, Principal Chief Michell Hicks and Chief U.S. District Court Judge Frank Whitney signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the details of the agreement whereby the Tribal Court would host CVB Court.

Boyum said the relationships the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has with the State of North Carolina and the federal government helped make this a reality.  “In the rest of Indian Country, there is often an antagonist relationship between the state and the Tribe and the federal government.  The system that is in place requires the exact opposite of that.  It requires all three of them to work together.”

“In the future, we hope to hold some U.S. District Courts here; at least the motions and sentencing and maybe some jury trials,” said Boyum who added the Tribal Court has been in discussions with state court officials and may share space with the state courts in the future as well.

Various tribal and federal officials were in attendance at Thursday’s event including (left-right):  Cherokee Associate Judge Kirk Saunooke, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Howell, Cherokee Chief Justice Bill Boyum, Cherokee Associate Judge Danny Davis, U.S. District Court Judge Martin Reidinger, Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Frank Whitney, Vice Chief Larry Blythe, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn, Vice Chairman Bill Taylor, and Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe.

Various tribal and federal officials were in attendance at Thursday’s event including (left-right): Cherokee Associate Judge Kirk Saunooke, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Howell, Cherokee Chief Justice Bill Boyum, Cherokee Associate Judge Danny Davis, U.S. District Court Judge Martin Reidinger, Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Frank Whitney, Vice Chief Larry Blythe, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn, Vice Chairman Bill Taylor, and Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe.

Vice Chief Larry Blythe noted, “We have a lot to be thankful for here with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  We have good relationships that we work hard to foster and promote and make sure that those continue.”

“This is one of those days that, in 30 years, someone is going to say, ‘When did that start?’  It is just very humbling to be able to be a part of this today for our Tribe, our region, and this part of the state.”

Several U.S. District Court and Magistrate Judges were on hand for Thursday’s event.

Judge Frank Whitney related, “It’s about relationships.”

He stated that the U.S. District Court in Bryson City was closed last fall due to a cost-saving measure and that those sessions are currently being held in Asheville, something the CVB Court in Cherokee will help remedy.

“It’s really unfair if you receive a minor traffic infraction or some modest offense, and you have to drive all the way to Asheville to adjudicate your rights. That’s unfair to the people of far western North Carolina.”

U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn praised the Cherokee Tribal Court and its judges.  “The judges here are as good as any judges anywhere, and that’s the secret to having complete jurisdiction given to the Tribe.  So, those that come from off of the Eastern Band Boundary believe that they are going to get a fair trial in the courts of Cherokee, and they can.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Howell thanked various tribal officials and complimented the new EBCI Justice Center.  “What a wonderful facility there now is here on the reservation for the betterment of the people of the Cherokee tribe.  It is a credit to the people of this community.”

The Cherokee Tribal Court will host other CVB Court sessions on Aug. 6 and Dec. 3.

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