By Jerome Tharaud
A Chippewa Cree tribal judge has resigned after pleading guilty to a charge of obstruction of justice in U.S. District Court.
Tribal officials are expected to call for a special election to replace her next week.
Associate Judge Crystal Lavern Denny, 31, sent a letter of resignation to the tribal council on Thursday, council member Pete Lamere said.
Denny pleaded guilty in federal court in Billings on Feb. 14. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI agents discovered in June that Denny had warned a person to "put his stuff away" because the FBI had a search warrant for the person's residence.
The person, who was indicted on drug charges, informed FBI agents about Denny's warning. Denny claimed that her concern for family members living with the individual prompted the warning, the press release said.
Denny could not be reached for comment.
Lamere said he's not aware of any objections on the council to the way the case against Denny was handled. He said the council will not get involved beyond declaring a vacancy on the tribal court and calling for a special election to replace her.
"We don't like what happened, but it was kind of surprising, being a judge," Lamere said. "I guess some people don't realize the importance of their position when they get in there.
"We were going to step in at some point," if Denny had not resigned, Lamere added.
According to the Chippewa Cree Constitution, the tribal council must declare the vacancy before an election can be held to fill the position. The council must then request the Tribal Election Board to hold a special election.
The Tribal Election Board will decide the date of the special election.
The constitution requires a special election if the vacancy occurs more than six months before the next regular election.
"The council will be addressing the vacancy of the associate judge position at the next council meeting" on March 7, tribal secretary Janice Meyers said.
Denny was elected in November of 2000. Tribal judges serve four-year terms. The next general elections will be held in 2004.