Aoki Center Launches Tribal Justice Project

Tribal Justice ProjectThe Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies at King Hall, UC Davis Law School, is celebrating the launch of the Aoki Center Tribal Justice Project on Thursday, April 12, at noon in the courtyard of the law school. A collaborative effort with California tribal judges, lawyers, and leaders, the Tribal Justice Project seeks to enhance the capacity and sovereignty of tribes in California by providing culturally appropriate training for tribal judges and court personnel and establishing an intertribal appellate court at the law school.

By targeting the needs of tribes in California and other Public Law 280 states, the Project will be the first of its kind to fill a critical educational gap. In contrast to most other states, California and five other states are governed by Public Law 280, a federal law that allows the state to assume concurrent jurisdiction in certain criminal and civil matters over Indians on certain tribal lands. Historically this law has created significant challenges for tribes in California and other Public Law 280 states that wish to establish their own tribal courts.  Training will be provided in areas accessible to tribes throughout the state and at King Hall.  The first training is scheduled at the Yurok Tribe, California’s largest tribe, in late June.

The Aoki Center hopes that the variety of curricular offerings in Federal Indian Law and Tribal Justice as well as extra-curricular programs and opportunities for service to tribes will encourage more Native students to become lawyers and to attract students to King Hall who are interested in providing legal services to California tribes.

Hon. Christine Williams, a member of the Yurok Tribe and the Chair of the California Tribal Judges Association, is the Director of the Aoki Center Tribal Justice Project.  Certified in Indian law, Judge Williams has spent her legal career focused on representing Tribes in a broad spectrum of legal matters such as tribal court development, Indian child welfare and cultural resource protection.  She currently serves as the Chief Judge for the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians in El Dorado County.  Previously, she assisted in the formation of and development of the Northern California Intertribal Court System, a consortium court serving four tribes in Mendocino County, California, where she also served as its Chief Judge.  Judge Williams has a long history of providing training and education on various areas of Indian law and Indian Child Welfare law and history. She serves as an appointee to the Tribal Court State Court Forum.

Jennifer R. Leal, a descendant of the Washoe and Mono Lake Paiute communities from northern California, is the Project’s Program Administrator. She brings to the project extensive experience in the areas of tribal relations, tribal court administration and judicial education. Previously, Ms. Leal worked for the National Judicial College – National Tribal Judicial Center in Reno, Nevada as the Program Manager. Therein she utilized her prior role as the Tribal Court Administrator for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada & California – Washoe Tribal Court in Gardnerville, Nevada to inform her work. While working at a national level, she developed distance-learning curricula and facilitated discussions on problem solving tribal court administration challenges. Ms. Leal also contributed to the early idea and design of the Judicial Council of California’s Court Toolkit for Tribal/State/Federal Administrators and Clerks. She became faculty in 2013 and provided education on court administration to Alaska tribal court administrators and clerks using David Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory for adult learners. Since leaving the National Tribal Judicial Center and retuning to California, Ms. Leal served as the Executive Assistant to the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ Tribal Chairman, Robert Martin, who was also Chairman in 1987 and represented the Tribe during the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians and Morongo Band of Mission Indians.  Ms. Leal earned both her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in American Indian Studies from UCLA. Her graduate research concentrated on history and law and primarily focused on tribal courts.

Professor Mary Louise Frampton, Director of the Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies at King Hall, will provide oversight and faculty support for the Tribal Justice Project.  Professor Frampton introduced a new course in Tribal Justice in Fall 2017 in consultation with Judge Williams. That course added to the curricular offerings at King Hall by the preeminent Federal Indian Law scholar, Professor Katherine Florey. She is particularly interested in the extraterritorial application of law, theories of jurisdiction, and the powers of tribal courts. 

This Project was created with support from the Yurok Tribe of Northern California and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

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