Thursday, October 29, 2009 7:34 PM CDT
The San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians commemorated the opening of the new San Manuel Tribal Court Friday, Oct. 23. The grand opening event marked an important milestone in the tribe’s exercise of its sovereign authorities as a government and was attended by 100 guests from regional tribal and state courts, law enforcement, and public office. “This is a historic day for the Tribe as we constitute the first formal court system on the reservation,” said Chairman James Ramos. “Today we affirm our commitment to invest in the capacity of our government to serve its people.” The court is comprised of a Trial Court and an Appellate Court, and the event included the first pubic swearing-in ceremony of the Chief Judge and the swearing-in of three Appellate Judges and a Judge Pro Tem.
San Manuel’s trial court will include Chief Judge Joanne Willis Newton and Judge Pro Tem Anthony Lee. Judge Willis Newton is a member of the Cree Nation of Chisasibi, located in northern Quebec, Canada. She worked for several years in the field of Aboriginal law in Canada before starting to practice Indian law in California more than 10 years ago. Judge Lee is a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe of New York and is the tribal attorney for the White Mountain Apache tribe of Arizona. He also sits as an appellate judge for the Southwest Intertribal Court of Appeals. San Manuel’s appellate court judges are: Michael Taylor, Jonodev Chauduri, Deborah DuBray and Job Serebrov.
All of the Tribal Court’s judges have significant experience in the fields of federal Indian law and tribal law and are licensed to practice in various jurisdictions across the country and Canada. “It is a great honor to be a part of this event and the Tribe’s development as a government,” said Chief Judge Willis Newton. “I look forward to the opportunity to serve the San Manuel community and to working with such an accomplished team of colleagues.” The Court provides an important dispute resolution forum for tribal citizens and other persons who come within the tribe’s jurisdiction. The court exercises general civil jurisdiction over tribal citizens and persons who have consented to tribal jurisdiction, either expressly or implicitly by entering the San Manuel Reservation or engaging in contractual relations with the tribe.
Chairman Ramos said before getting its own court, members of the band dealt out tribal justice and enforced San Manuel ordinances. Members of the tribe are also under jurisdiction of federal and California state laws when it comes to criminal violations, and Ramos said two members were fined heavily and banned from the reservation for criminal activity. That’s the most serious penalty the tribe can impose.