By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - The Rocky Boy tribal council is considering empowering the tribe's Judicial Commission to review and change the structure of the tribal courts.
"I'm fed up to here with that court system," council member Jake Parker said at a meeting last week when the council voted to authorize another year's worth of contracts for the courts' three judges.
The council followed the Judicial Commission's recommendation in retaining Chief Judge Duane Gopher, and appointing Joe Morsette to an associate judge position. The council didn't endorse the commission recommendation of Geneva Stump for the other associate judge position and instead reappointed Enus Johnson Sr.
Gilbert Belgarde was not reappointed as associate judge and he vacated the position on Wednesday.
Last week's appointments were only the second council appointments since the voters approved a ballot initiative last year that gave the tribal council the ability to make court appointments. Previously, judges were elected.
The reason for the change was to strengthen the court, commission chair Bert Corcoran said Monday.
"Businesses won't come up here without a strong court system," he said.
Corcoran said the new court system is a fledgling, and there is a lot of work to be done to bring the new system up to date.
Suggestions last week included adding a court administrator position, rather than relying on the chief judge.
"Judges should be there to do just that, to judge, not administrate," council member Jonathan Windy Boy said.
Other council members complained that there is always a backlog of cases and the court is always behind schedule.
"Due process is a big problem out here in terms of who comes before the court and what sentences come out," Parker said.
When council members asked why the commission had not recommended more sweeping changes, Corcoran said the commission's authority is limited to making recommendations and reviewing grievances.
Council members agreed that they want to see the commission take on more authority in suggesting changes, with the details to be worked out this week on Thursday.
Corcoran told the council that if the commission takes on the authority the council suggested, it would also have to create a measuring tool for the success of judges, as well as possibly an oversight committee to be sure the commission was acting properly.
He said the tribal constitution might also need to be reviewed because it puts the courts under the authority of the council, not the commission.
"Some members aren't sure they want anymore" responsibility, he said in an interview Monday. "It sounds like they wanted to give us the whole thing."
Corcoran said the commission will do whatever it is assigned to do, but that there should be some discussion first. "I'm not really sure how much (responsibility) we should have," he said.