Law | National

Nooksack Tribe creates new court and puts chairman in charge






The Nooksack Tribe of Washington is trying to remove 306 people from the rolls. Photo from The Nooksack 306 / Facebook

As one Pacific Northwest tribe heeds rulings from its own court system in a disenrollment dispute another is taking judicial activism to a new level.

The Nooksack Tribe in Washington created a new Supreme Court and Chairman Bob Kelly is serving as its chief justice, according to an order issued by the entity on October 7. And the other four justices? Those seats are being held by council members.

It appears tribal leaders created the new court for the sole purpose oaf interfering in an ongoing disenrollment dispute. According to the October 7 order, Chief Justice Kelly and his fellow jurists are conducting an "expedited" review of the matter.

The order, however, obscures the fact that the matter at issue originated from a lawsuit in which Chairman Kelly and other tribal leaders are named as defendants. Instead, it's styled as a review of the Nooksack Court of Appeals.

That means Chief Justice Kelly is making a decision on a lawsuit bearing his own name, albeit in a different capacity.

"In general, the Nooksack Supreme Court is fake. So are the 'Justices' who comprise it. So are the laws that supposedly established it," the Galanda Broadman law firm, whose attorneys represent the plaintiffs in Belmont v. Kelly, wrote in a letter on Friday to the tribe.

The Nooksack 306 sued Chairman Kelly in an attempt to prevent more than 300 people from being disenrolled. With Galanda Broadman's legal assistance, the group has made some headway in the tribe's court system.

But the tribal council earlier this year disbarred Galanda Broadman, without advance notice, depriving The Nooksack 306 of their most effective advocate. The council then fired a judge who questioned the move and has refused to abide by rulings from the Nooksack Court of Appeals.

Chairman Kelly previously told The Bellingham Herald that the Court of Appeals can't tell tribal leaders what to do. The tribe's executive branch and judicial branches do not operate independently so the court system is already under control of the council.

Read More on the Story:
Nooksack Indian Tribe creates Supreme Court, gets restraining order against appeals court (The Bellingham Herald 10/13)
“Step forward, speak strongly” (The Inter County Leader 10/6)
Nooksack appeals court reinstates attorneys in disenrollment case (The Bellingham Herald 9/23)

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