Isleta Pueblo Politics

By Christopher L. Abeita

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Council Loses Probate Code

Tribal Council Can’t Keep Track of Laws they Enact

Last year, the Isleta Tribal Council adopted the Isleta Probate Code.  These are laws that spell out the process of how and who may inherit property within the Pueblo’s jurisdiction.

Tribal Attorney Pablo Padilla previously told the Council that his office submitted the Probate Code to the federal government for review and approval. Supposedly, this occurred sometime last year.

After the feds receive the Probate Code, they have 180 days to approve it. If the feds fail to take action within 180 days, the Probate Code becomes effective automatically – by default. 

So, where is it? Where’s the Probate Code?

If the Council submitted the code to the feds last year, the code should be in effect today because more than 180 days have passed. But, the Isleta Tribal Courts are not using the Probate Code because they don’t have it.

Instead, our Courts are using a “probate packet” that someone at the Courts created during the last term. Lawrence “Larry” Lucero was the Chief Judge last term. So, he must’ve given approval for the “probate packet” to be used. But, Chief Judge Lucero failed to publish or give notice to the Tribe that the Courts were requiring tribal members to use their new “probate packet.”

Also, the Court’s “probate packet” was never approved by the Isleta Tribal Council. This raises questions on whether tribal members are obligated to use the forms contained in the “probate packet.” The probate packets contains forms that may create unnecessary burdens on families that have probate cases. 

The Courts, however, must use some type of method to process and hear probate cases. This forces the Courts to use state laws, federal laws or make up their own process – out of thin air — as they did when the Chief Judge Lawrence Lucero approved the “probate packets” during the last term. 

Since we do not have our own written laws for probate cases, our judges are each doing whatever they think is best. This means that their decisions or actions are arbitrary. This creates unpredictability, inconsistency and confusion because the judges are each doing something different. This created conflicts during the last term and more conflicts usually mean more appeals. 

But — the appeals are still not being processed because this Council has not yet finished appointing Justices to the Appellate Court. (A half year has already passed, what is the problem?)

Our Tribe is wasting thousands and thousands of dollars to process probate cases. And, tribal members are also forced to waste their money paying lawyers to help them fight out their case in court. Why? Because the current Council is failing to its job by ensuring that we have proper laws in place that are easy and simple to understand.

Our probate laws should be in writing. This would eliminate or minimize confusion and inconsistency. It would also help to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equitably. 

It should be clear, however, that the Isleta Probate Code adopted by the Council in 2014 has flaws. So, it will not solve all of our problems. But, at the very least, it will allow us to know what process the Court will use to hear probate cases. 

We can then discuss or debate modifying the probate code so it reflects the values of our Tribe. But, we can’t begin that process until the current council members take action to find out what happened to the Isleta Probate Code after it was submitted to the feds. 

Meanwhile, if you have a pending probate case, you will likely spend months and years battling your family members in front of the Tribal Court and the Appellate Court.

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