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The Third Branch

Issues explored at three-state tribal forum

Judge Mark L. Goodman and Ho-Chunk Nation Associate Judge Amanda WhiteEagle

Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Mark L. Goodman and Ho-Chunk Nation Associate Judge Amanda WhiteEagle present at the Tribal Forum Conference in Prior Lake, Minn.

By Bonnie MacRitchie, Office of Court Operations

On Sept. 15 and 16 the Wisconsin State-Tribal Justice Forum sponsored a two-day conference with state and tribal judges from Michigan and Minnesota to explore issues of mutual concern regarding the relationship between state and tribal courts.

The Tribal Forum Conference was held at the Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake, Minn. The conference was attended by 26 state and tribal court judges from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, and two Supreme Court justices.

District Nine Chief Judge Neal A. Nielsen, Vilas County Circuit Court, was among presenters. In addition to the judges, the conference was attended by court administrators and policy analysts, clerks of court, and tribal law attorneys.

The impetus for this conference came from the A Bridge to Cooperation conference held in July 2011. Wisconsin hosted the 2011 conference for Wisconsin and Michigan state and tribal judges and clerks in Green Bay. The conference was a great success and many connections were made. The success of this gathering inspired strong interest in another collaborative conference including Minnesota state and tribal representatives.

"I believe I can speak for all judges from Minnesota who took part in the tri-state forum in September. The opportunity to learn about our respective inter-jurisdictional relationships in a respectful and welcoming setting provided us much incentive to continue and improve our efforts here in Minnesota. We thank each of you for your generous and thoughtful contributions," said Lower Sioux Indian Community Associate Judge Andrew Small.

The 2014 conference explored issues of full faith and credit, or comity; the discretionary transfer of cases from state courts to tribal courts; state codification and implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act; and the development of tribal and joint state-tribal specialty courts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.

"The Wisconsin tribal state forum was absolutely instrumental in inspiring, educating and assisting us in our success in implementing the Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act. Their vision to now include Minnesota in our discussions should be recognized and applauded," said Judge Tim Connors of the Washtenaw County Trial Court in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"The tri-state forum was an excellent opportunity to learn from our sister states about what their forums are accomplishing and to obtain ideas for our newly re-established Michigan Forum that will be meeting at the end of October," said Maribeth Preston, management analyst, Michigan State Court Administrative Office.

The conference was made possible by a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and conference coordination was provided by Fox Valley Technical College.

The Wisconsin State-Tribal Justice Forum is a group of state and tribal court judges that also includes representatives from the state legislature and the State Bar of Wisconsin's Indian Law Section and a policy analyst from the Director of State Courts. It was formed in 2005 and given a general charge to promote and sustain communication, education and cooperation among tribal and state court systems.

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