Tribal members Paula and Judy Abeita came before the Isleta Tribal Council on July 24, 2014, with their father, Pablo Abeita, to express concerns about the Isleta Tribal Courts. President Michael Allen Lente explained that the Council would not hear the merits of their case with the opposing party. Paula Abeita stated their concerns did not involve the merits of their case.
Instead, the issues they wanted to discuss were matters involving the behavior of employees of the Isleta Tribal Courts and specific procedures of the Court. Ms. Abeita stated that she has a pending case involving an employee who happens to work at the Tribal Courts. She did not identify the person. Nor, did she discuss the merits of her case.
According to Ms. Abeita, the Court assured her that the employee at the Court would not have improper access to the Court’s file. Ms. Abeita, however, later discovered that documents in the file were altered, which caused her serious concern.
Paula Abeita continued by explaining that the Court is not properly safeguarding court files. She stated that when she went to the court to inspect her file, employees told her that the file was lost somewhere in the office of the Court Administrator Ms. Darlene Valdez. But, Ms. Valdez was absent on that day.
When Ms. Abeita voiced her concerns, employees told her that Chief Judge Lawrence Lucero required that she place her request, to view the file, in writing. Ms. Abeita stated that she complied by submitting her request in writing the same day. When she contacted the Court to follow-up, she was told that the Chief Judge could not provide her with the file because it was not his case. Ms. Abeita felt frustrated with the actions of the Isleta Tribal Court.
Ms. Abeita then explained that the Court Administrator saw her in the court room and reacted by making a rude sound. Ms. Abeita demonstrated the obnoxious behavior for the Council. She then told the Council that she did not appreciate the behavior of the Isleta Tribal Court Administrator.
Additionally, Ms. Paula Abeita advised the Council that the Court’s new policy of mailing notices of court hearings to tribal members is unfair.
As you may know, for decades the Isleta Tribal Court employed a process server. This person was responsible for delivering court documents to parties involved in judicial proceedings. The server would also deliver notice of hearings to tribal members. This enabled the Tribal Court to have verification that parties had actual notice of court proceedings.
For unknown reason, the Isleta Tribal Court shifted the responsibility of serving documents to the parties in a case. This means that if you file a lawsuit, you are responsible for ensuring that your documents are properly served to the opposing party. The Court then simply sends notices of court hearings to the parties via regular mail.
Ms. Paula Abeita described an incident when she received a notice of hearing in the mail on the same day of the hearing. The date stamp on the letter also showed that the Court sent the notice to her just one or two days before the hearing. The failure of Court to give her proper notice caused her tremendous inconvenience because she had to get to the Court immediately and she was unable to properly prepare for the proceedings.
In another incident, Ms. Abeita took time off from work to attend a hearing and she paid her attorney to also be present. She then discovered that the Court cancelled the hearing without giving her notice. As a result, she wasted money to bring in her attorney and she lost money because she had to take time off from work.
When she asked the Tribal Prosecutor, Reynaldo Montano, about the cancellation, he made a statement indicating that he was well aware of the cancellation. But, he did not inform her of the cancellation. According to Ms. Abeita, Mr. Montano later denied having knowledge of the cancellation. Ms. Abeita confronted him by telling him, you just told me that you were aware the hearing had been cancelled. He denied it and he told her that he has 125 cases besides hers.
Ms. Abeita said that she is “disturbed by the unprofessional conduct” of employees at the Isleta Tribal Court. She made it clear that tribal members do not deserve that type of treatment.
Council members appeared to be genuinely concerned about the complaints. Several Council members commented that they have each heard various complaints from tribal members about the Tribal Courts. There was general agreement that the Council needed to discuss these matters with the judges.
Council member James Abeita stated that he has serious concerns about the Court’s personnel being disrespectful to tribal members. He said that when people have to go to the Courts, the matter is very stressful. He said that the Courts needed to treat all people with the utmost of respect.
Secretary Verna Teller stated that it is futile to go through the Governor to address these issues. She said that the Council needs to address these problems directly with the judges. She commented that the judges are trying to revamp the process and it is causing serious problems in the community.
Council member Josephine Padilla stated that the biggest complaint that she hears concern the “mail outs.” She is referring to the Tribal Court’s new policy of sending out notices to people instead of using a process server.
The Council is concerned that the judges are simply trying to imitate the Albuquerque Metro Court. Council members also stated that Governor Eddie Paul Torres is “extremely defensive about the Courts.” The current judges are Chief Judge Lawrence Lucero, Associate Judge Joe Little and Associate Judge Renee Torres. Governor Torres is the father of Judge Torres.
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By Christopher Abeita