Struggle to Appoint Renee Torres as Chief Tribal Judge

Some Council Members are Concerned about Confirming the Governor’s Daughter, Renee Torres, as Chief Tribal Judge

To avoid “appearances of impropriety,” Governor Eddie Paul Torres directed First Lieutenant Governor Antonio Chewiwi to present the Isleta Tribal Council with a proposed resolution that would place administrative oversight of the Tribal Judges with the First and Second Lieutenant Governors. The proposed resolution states:

“WHEREAS, Tribal Council and Governor find it is in the best interests of the Pueblo to delegate Governor’s administrative oversight of the Tribal Judges to the First and Second Lieutenant Governor.”

To read the entire proposed resolution, click: Governor’s Proposed Resolution

Since Renee Torres is the daughter of Governor Eddie Paul Torres, tribal members are complaining about conflicts of interests and appearances of impropriety. So, the proposed resolution tries to address those concerns.

Council Member Verna Teller asked Lt. Chewiwi: how would you enforce that resolution against Governor Torres? The Governor is your boss.

Teller also reminded the L–T that during the last term, Governor Torres already prevented his Lt. Governors from reprimanding his son. The Governor’s son is an employee of the Pueblo.

Lt. Chewiwi stumbled for words. He finally replied that he would explain to the Governor that it is inappropriate for the Governor to be involved. And, he is doing his job in accordance with the authorized resolution and that the Governor would have to understand. And, if not, then the Governor would have to ask for his resignation.

Despite his response, several Council Members felt that the proposed resolution was unenforceable. Council Member Betty Lente stated, it’s a complete conflict of interest and just because there is a piece of paper, I don’t take it well.

President Frank Lujan stated, I don’t feel right about this paper. There is an appearance of impropriety and I’m not saying anything negative about Renee Torres. In my mind, she is more than qualified.

Council Member Barbara Sanchez stated, this is difficult for me because we have a tribal member that is qualified to be in that position. So, should we deny her the right to serve just because her father is the Governor?

Sanchez felt that the Council was penalizing Renee Torres just because her dad is the Governor.

Renee Torres stated, I hold myself to a high ethical standard and [as a judge] I have never gone to him [Governor Torres] and he has never come to me.

Council Member Teller explained to Renee Torres that she was very concerned about the complaints that the previous Council received about the tribal court judges. Teller spoke to her in our Native language.

Teller said that the judges needed to show all of our people respect. It didn’t matter who that person was because every person is entitled to respect.

Teller explained that the previous Council received many complaints from the people about the Judges. She said that the Judges demonstrated a lack of respect for the people that appeared before the Court.

According to Teller, the previous Council sent a letter to the Tribal Court requesting a meeting to address their concerns. The Court, however, did not respond to the letter.

Teller told her that their heads got too big just because they were judges. Teller spoke at great length, in our language, and told Torres that she needed to have patience as a Judge and that she needed to have patience with our people. She made it clear that our Courts are not like the outside Courts and that she needed to afford our people an opportunity to say their piece in Court.

Teller said that it really bothers her that the Courts have a lack of respect for our people. She said that it was very hurtful to her when she hears how the Courts are treating the people.

Torres said that she is sorry that there is complaints but that there is nothing that she can do. She also said that she was never made aware of the Council’s letter.

Vice-President Michael Allen Lente made a motion to approve the proposed resolution that was presented by Lt. Chewiwi with minor amendments. The motion failed with 3 in favor, 4 opposed & 0 abstaining.

Voting in Favor were: President Lujan, Vice-President Lente & Secretary Sanchez.

Voting Against were: Verna Teller, Betty Lente, Ulysses Abeita and Fernando Abeita.

Immediately, with the failure of the Motion, Renee Torres thanked the Council for the opportunity to serve as a Judge and walked out of the meeting room. Apparently, she thought that the failure of the motion meant that she would not be confirmed as Chief Judge.

Council Member Barbara Sanchez then made a motion to retain Renee Torres as a Judge for 60 days until the Governor presents alternative appointments for Judges. Vice-President Lente seconded the motion. The motion carried with 4 in favor, 3 opposed & 0 abstaining.

Voting in Favor were: President Lujan, Vice-President Lente, Secretary Sanchez and Ulysses Abeita.

Voting Against were: Verna Teller, Betty Lente and Fernando Abeita.

Secretary Sanchez stated that the motion carried. Tribal Attorney Pablo Padilla immediately agreed. Padilla stated that the Council was not confirming an appointment so the Council did not need 5 votes. He said that the Council only needed a majority vote because they were “extending” the term of office for Torres.

EDITORIAL COMMENT

Secretary Barbara Sanchez’s motion to retain Renee Torres as a Tribal Court Judge for 60 days is invalid.dga

Why? Because the Council does not have the constitutional power to APPOINT judges. The Tribal Constitution limits the Council’s authority to either confirming or rejecting a person offered by the Governor as an appointment to the bench. And, anyone offered as a Tribal Court Judge must receive a 2/3 majority vote of the Council for confirmation.

To get around the Tribal Constitution, the Tribal Attorney Pablo Padilla is advising the Council that Barbara’s Motion is valid because they are simply “extending” the term of office for Renee Torres by 60 days.

Pablo is basing his advice on Resolution #2014-087, which is also unconstitutional because — once again — the Council does not have the constitutional authority to appoint judges. The Council can only confirm or reject a judicial appointment.

Hence, Barbara’s motion to extend the term of office for Torres by 60 days is unconstitutional.  It is invalid.

But, for sake of discussion, let’s assume that Resolution #2014-087, which was adopted on December 31, 2014, is valid.  This Resolution kept Chief Judge Lucero and Judge Little on the bench as pro tem judges.  But, it excluded Judge Renee Torres. This would mean that term of office for Judge Torres expired when the Council approved Resolution #2014-087.

And, if her term expired, then it would no longer be possible to retain her as a Judge for 60 days.

So, either way you analyze the situation, Renee Torres is no longer a Judge. It’s that plain and it’s that simple.

Nevertheless, I’m very concerned at how some members of the Council and Governor are twisting and destroying the Tribal Constitution. And, unfortunately, they are doing it based on the advice of the Tribal Attorney Pablo Padilla.

Our people need to realize that our Tribal Constitution is intended to protect the entire Tribe from governmental abuse by tribal officials. Our Constitution needs to have meaning to protect every single person on this reservation.  But, when tribal officials twist it or ignore it or step on it, then it is absolutely damaging to every single person on this reservation. We might not feel any immediate and direct impact.  But, at some time, when you least expect it, you will be hurt and you feel the pain because the day will come when you are directly impacted.

Accordingly, earlier today, I submitted a letter to the Council requesting that they reexamine whether the Motion made by Barbara Sanchez to “extend” and “retain” Torres as a Tribal Judge is constitutional. To read the letter, click, Jan 7th Letter to Council Re Judicial Appointments.

 

Judicial Appointment of Lawrence “Larry” Lucero

 

What are your thoughts?