Judicial Appointments & Salary Confusion

Council Confirms Michelle Brown-Yazzie as Tribal Court Judge

On March 11, 2015, Governor Eddie Paul Torres presented Michelle Brown-Yazzie as his nominee to serve as a full time Associate Judge on the Isleta Tribal Court. 

Vice-President Michael Allen Lente made the motion to confirm Michelle Brown-Yazzie.  Fernando Abeita seconded the motion.  The motion carried with 6 in favor, 0 opposed and 1 abstaining. Verna Teller abstained.

On March 4, 2015, Governor Torres presented Vincent Knight and Cynthia Aragon as his nominees for appointment to the Tribal Court.  Both are attorneys and they are both Native Americans. Knight is from the Ponca Tribe and Aragon is from the Navajo Nation. 

The Council confirmed both nominees for appointment to the bench.  The Governor, however, was supposed to negotiate salaries with each person. Governor Torres later informed the Council that Vincent Knight accepted the appointment and Cynthia Aragon declined because of the salary that was offered. 

Resolution #2010-123, entitled “Enacting a Tribal Judges Ordinance” capped the salaries of the Tribal Court Judges as follows:

  • Chief Judge a base salary of $70,000.00 and fringe benefits up to $21,000.00
  • Associate Judges a base salary of $60,000.00 and fringe benefits up to $18,000.00

To read the full ordinance, click: Resolution #2010-123

Editorial Comment

The 2010 Tribal Judges Ordinance capped the salaries of Tribal Judges.  Are Tribal Officials complying with this law? 

The current Council did not amend the ordinance to increase salaries for judges.

Did the previous Council?  According to former Council Members from 2013-2014, they did not amend the ordinance.

Other Council Members from last term, can’t remember.

If the law was amended, where is the Resolution amending the law?

If there was no amendment, then our current judges must be paid in accordance with Resolution #2010-123. 

Unfortunately, none of our tribal officials can remember whether they amended the law.  And, since our tribal officials like to maintain secrecy, there is no documentation showing that they amended the law.

What will the current Tribal Council do?  Will they find the Resolution amending the law? Will they honor the existing laws of our Tribe? Or, will they simply ignore the situation and pretend that there is no problem? 

Meanwhile, of course, they expect for you and your families to honor and comply with their laws.

Also, what were the judges receiving as compensation last term? And, how were those salaries authorized?

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