The Isleta Tribal Council is considering proposed changes to the Revised Isleta Law and Order Code. This Code contains the criminal laws of the Pueblo. The Council adopted this Code twice. The Council first adopted the Revised Code on February 28, 2008, through Resolution #2008-061.
Several months later, on September 11, 2008, the Council voted to adopt Resolution #2008-192 to once again adopt the Revised Isleta Law and Order Code. The Council did this twice because their first vote eliminated the entire original code. The Council wanted to retain certain provisions of the original code. So, they had to vote once again to reinstate specific laws they eliminated on February 28, 2008.
Nevertheless, during the morning of July 2, 2014, the following persons met with the Council:
Judge Renee Torres;
Judge Joe Little;
Reynaldo Montano, Tribal Prosecutor;
Zane Swank, Tribal Public Defender; &
A Captain with the Isleta Police Department (I did not hear his name).
Judge Renee Torres, the daughter of Governor Eddie Paul Torres, made the presentation to the Council. She explained that this group developed numerous revisions to the Law and Order Code. They had approximately 90 proposed changes to the Code. The Code is 50 pages long.
Judge Torres said that it will take several presentations to the Council to discuss all of their recommended changes.
Some changes include:
• Redefining criminal offenses to make it easier to prosecute tribal members;
• Increasing criminal penalties for tribal members that commit a battery or an assault against police officers;
• Increasing the time period to prosecute tribal members when the federal government does not prosecute a case;
• Create a system to keep statistics of the crimes committed on the reservation; &
• Creating laws that would cause tribal members to forfeit their firearms for committing certain types of crime.
The Council broke for lunch and planned to continue hearing the presentation during the afternoon session.
I did not attend the afternoon session of the council meeting.
The judges have created a very serious problem because they are involved in revising the Law and Order Code and recommending approval of their changes to the Council.
According to our Constitution, you are supposed to go to the Isleta Tribal Courts to challenge the constitutionality of any enactment of the Council. The Constitution states: “. . . the tribal court shall determine the constitutionality of enactments of the council submitted to the court for review.” Article IX, Section 5, Pueblo of Isleta Tribal Constitution.
This means when you raise challenges to the constitutionality of a law, you are asking the Courts to decide whether that law violates the Isleta Tribal Constitution.
Why is it a problem to allow our judges to be involved in drafting laws and recommending that the Council adopt those laws?
First, the Tribal Constitution is supposed to provide a system of checks and balances. It does this by establishing a separation of powers. The Council enacts laws, the Courts interpret the laws and the Governors enforce those laws.
But, now that our judges are acting as legislators, we no longer have a separation of powers. We no longer have a system of checks and balances.
Second, judges are supposed to be fair, neutral and unbiased when they hear your case. If you are challenging a law that the judges wrote, it is inherently unfair for them to decide whether your challenge has any merit. Ask yourself — will the judges admit or concede that the laws that they drafted and recommended for approval violate the Tribal Constitution?
Finally, how do we hold these judges accountable for the laws they are now drafting and recommending for enactment by the Council? We didn’t vote for any of these judges. All of them are political appointees of Governor Eddie Paul Torres. So, it is impossible for you to hold these judges accountable for the laws they are drafting and imposing on you and your families.
It also peculiar that the Isleta Tribal Court Judges and the Council are happily revising and fine tuning criminal laws to punish tribal members for any violations. Yet, we the tribal members, have absolutely no recourse against tribal officials when they ignore or violate the Isleta Tribal Constitution.
The Tribal Constitution is supposed to protect all of us. It serves as a restraint on the actions of our governmental officials. It is supposed to protect against abuse of governmental power and political corruption. But, the Tribal Constitution is useless when our tribal judges and elected officials choose to ignore it.
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By Christopher Abeita