Judicial Appointment of Lawrence “Larry” Lucero
Yesterday, during the morning session of the Isleta Tribal Council meeting, Lt. Governor Antonio Chewiwi requested the Isleta Tribal Council confirm Lawrence “Larry” Lucero as a judicial appointment to the Isleta Tribal Court for the 2015-2016 term.
Lucero served as Chief Judge for the 2013-2014 term.
Lt. Chewiwi explained that Governor Eddie Paul Torres asked Lucero whether he would agree to continue serving as a Judge. And, whether he would agree to step down as Chief Judge.
Chief Judge Lucero stated that the Governor sent him a letter asking whether he would accept a position as an Associate Judge.
The Chief Judge began to explain, I have done my job during my term. We’ve done a lot of work. He started to discuss the various grants that are funding the courts.
Council Member Verna Teller asked: how do you feel about stepping down?
Chief Judge Lucero replied that he did not have a problem with it.
Teller told him that during the last term, the Council received a lot of complaints from the community about the Tribal Court. She said, people are feeling abused because the Court is heavy handed.
She was concerned that the Judges were acting like “bullies” based on their demeanor toward the parties because it appeared that they were disrespectful and vindictive to Tribal Members.
Council Member Betty Lente stated that the court system is only as good as our Judges. She stated, “I’m not going to approve any Judge that does not have a heart.” She had concerns about some people sitting in jail for 6 to 8 months. She said, most of our people are repeaters and they need treatment not jail.
Chief Judge Lucero responded, we’re not just throwing them in jail — just to throw them in jail.
Council Member Ulysses Abeita stated that he was concerned about people that are under educated. He told the Chief Judge, I don’t want them being treated unfairly.
Teller wanted clarification from Lt. Chewiwi on what was occurring with Judge Joseph Little. According to Chewiwi, Judge Little resigned as a Judge because he did not agree to serve on a temporary basis.
Vice-President Michael Allen Lente made a motion to confirm Lawrence Lucero as an Associate Judge.
However, Diane Peigler, a tribal member, was sitting in the audience and she asked President Frank Lujan whether she could address the Council before he entertained any motions.
President Lujan stated that he would open the floor for public comment from Tribal Members. He made it clear, however, that he did not want anyone discussing their personal cases that were pending before the Court.
In the audience, 11 tribal members, not including tribal employees, were observing the appointment process.
In general, the comments from the audience concerned the inconsistent court procedures that the Judges were applying to cases. For instance, the failure of the Court to ensure that all interested parties to a case were afforded notice of court hearings.
Tribal members also complained that the Judges were imposing high bonds of up to $5,000.00 on defendants.
Also, the failure of the Court to provide the Tribe with notice of their rules and procedures.
I (Christopher Abeita) also addressed the Council. I raised concerns about the Court violating a person’s constitutional right to privacy by ordering defendants to sign waivers to enable the Isleta Behavioral Health Department to disclose their personal medical information to the Courts and to the Tribal Prosecutor.
Further, I told the Council that the Court is also violating a defendant’s right to representation by an attorney or a spokesperson by prohibiting the attorney or advocate to be with their client when Isleta Behavioral Health is questioning a defendant.
President Lujan closed the floor for public comments.
Vice President Michael Allen Lente made a motion to confirm Lawrence Lucero as an Associate Judge.
Teller asked whether the Council was going to vote by secret ballot because that has been the past practice of the Council.
So, Lente made a motion that the Council vote by secret ballot to confirm Lucero as an Associate Judge.
Before calling for a vote on the motion, President Lujan stated, I’m not in favor of voting by secret ballot. I want things to be transparent. He then called for someone to second the motion.
The motion died for lack of a second.
Council Member Fernando Abeita made a motion to confirm Lawrence Lucero as an Associate Judge. Seconded by Vice-President Lente. The vote was 4 in favor, 3 opposed and 0 abstaining.
Voting in Favor: President Lujan, Vice-President Lente, Secretary Sanchez and Fernando Abeita.
Voting Against: Verna Teller, Betty Lente and Ulysses Abeita
Council Members and audience members began to congratulate Lucero. However, Tribal Attorney Pablo Padilla quickly went up to President Lujan to confer with him.
Apparently, it concerned the confirmation vote because the President advised everyone that Judge Lucero was not confirmed because he needed 5 votes in accordance with the Tribal Constitution. So, Chief Judge Lucero was not confirmed as an Associate Judge because he only got 4 votes.
As a result, the Council relied on Resolution #2014-087, which was adopted on December 31, 2014. This Resolution appointed Chief Judge Lucero and Judge Little as pro tem judges. It did not include Judge Torres.
Council Member Fernando Abeita was concerned that the Resolution would enable the Governors to wait for a year before naming alternative appointments for the Council’s consideration.
So, essentially the Council amended Resolution #2014-087, by limiting the term for Chief Judge Lucero to 60 days. Teller made the motion to retain Chief Judge Lucero by extending his term for not more than 60 days. Vice-President Lente seconded the motion. The motion carried 7 in favor, 0 opposed & 0 abstaining.
This meant that Chief Judge Lawrence Lucero’s term of office was extended by an additional 60 days as the Chief Judge of the Isleta Tribal Courts.