Turtle Mountain Judges Face Formal Charges - KFYRTV.COM - Bismarck, ND - News, Weather, Sports

Turtle Mountain Judges Face Formal Charges

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Two judges and a court clerk face formal charges. The Judicial Board of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians voted Thursday to institute formal charges against the tribe's chief judge, associate judge and chief clerk of court. The decision comes after a lengthy investigation.

The tribal court system on the Turtle Mountain Reservation is in turmoil.

Turtle Mountain's Chief Judge MaDonna Marsellais, Judge Andrew Laverdure and court clerk Jolene House are facing some serious charges. The Judicial Board received several complaints regarding delays of trials, failure to apply proper due process and failure to follow professional ethics or responsibilities.

When the Judicial Board tried to access files, the judges and clerk refused access and they sued the board to try to prevent them from accessing the documents. Then the Appellate Court in Turtle Mountain ruled they had a right to the files.

"It struck me as it was kind of obvious. I mean, if the Judicial Board doesn't have a right to look at the files, then who does?" says Judge William Zuger.

Former tribal Judge Zuger served as a consultant for the Judicial Board and he says he reviewed the files with a heavy heart.

"I felt badly for the people who had gone through those cases. Remember, when you're a judge, this is not your case. The people in your courtroom, this is very serious to them. In many cases, it's life altering decisions. The people who come into the court deserve the care of a thoughtful, considerate and competent judge."

Zuger reviewed 25 cases and he says there was a problem with every one of them.
One of the biggest problems is related to tribal code.

"Code requires a law-trained judge preside, but no one ever has. Those are major systemic problems."

Neither Marsellais nor Laverdure are practicing attorneys. While that doesn't prohibit them from running for the office of tribal judge, they are not legally qualified to preside over any criminal cases.

Zuger says it's important for Turtle Mountain to address these issues.

"This is about people. And every human being deserves to be treated fairly," he says.

The allegations against the judges include incompetence and issuing a warrant that resulted in the illegal arrest of a tribal member in another jurisdiction.

The judges and the clerk have 20 days to respond after they are served. Lynn Boughey, the attorney for the Judicial Board, says the matter will likely be presented to an impeachment judge selected by the board.

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