Tribal, county courts join to hear family, juvenile cases

By Cole Mayer, The Mountain Democrat

March 12, 2014 – The Superior Court of El Dorado County and the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians on the Shingle Springs Rancheria will collaborate to create a court for juvenile and family court cases.

Two judges, Christine Williams of the Shingle Springs Tribal Court and Judge Suzanne N. Kingsbury, presiding judge of the El Dorado County Superior Court, will hear the cases thanks to a grant provided by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the only grantee this year, a press release stated.

Child welfare, domestic violence, juveniles and substance abuse affecting families will be the types of cases the tribal-state joint jurisdictional court will hear. Courtrooms on tribal lands and in downtown Placerville, about seven miles apart, will be used. The locations will alternate and the judges will hear the cases together.

“The Shingle Springs Tribal Court and the El Dorado Superior Court have worked collaboratively on several projects designed to improve outcomes for children and families who appear in our courts,” Kingsbury said. “Generally those projects have involved parallel court proceedings in two separate courts. This proposal allows us to, for the first time, offer one unified proceeding designed to address the issues which brought the children and families into the court system.”

Williams added, “We believe this collaborative approach is the very best way to address the many-layered issues that bring native families and children into court. By working together, we can intentionally break the cycle of long-standing systemic issues, give children a sense of belonging and the tools to manage their lives and enable them to make positive choices and be leaders in their community.”

Both judges are members of the California Tribal Court-State Court Forum of the Judicial Council. Created in 2010, the forum “makes recommendations for improving the administration of justice in all proceedings in which the exercise of jurisdiction by the state judicial branch and the tribal justice systems overlap,” the press release stated.

The collaborative effort will serve as a model both within the state and nationally. The California Administrative Office and the Oregon-based Project TEAM will work with Williams and Kingsbury to translate their experience into materials to help other jurisdictions in creating their own joint court collaborations.