Emergency Amendments To Judiciary Law & Transition Plan [UPDATE]

At the March 26, 2014 Business Committee Regular Meeting it was revealed via an undated Legislative Reference Office ‘Statement of Effect’ regarding ‘Emergency Amendments ot the Judiciary Law’:

During meetings to discuss the transition from the Oneida Tribal Judicial System to the new Judiciary, the Judiciary transition team [has become] aware of an unintended error in the draft of the [Judiciary Law which GTC adopted on January 7, 2013]. The GTC made it clear, prior to and during the GTC meeting of January 7, 2013, that if any judge only possessed a bachelor’s degree that it should be within certain fields of study. The GTC approved the specific fields of study. However, upon review of the Law, the specific fields of study are only listed in Section 150.11-1(c) under non-chief judges, but not listed in Section 150.11(b) for Chief Judges. Again, this error was inadvertent.

The undated LRO Statement of Effect goes on to say the following (and thereby indicates that it was authored in mid-March):

…Due to the fact that the caucus is only one (1) month away [on April 12, 2014], there is not enough time to take this amendment to the GTC for approval. It is imperative that the correct qualifications be set forth at the caucus to ensure only qualified candidates go through the potentially lengthy legislative process at this time. However, to make these amendments permanent, this will have to go to the GTC for final approval.

The Judiciary Law shows that GTC appoved bachelor’s degrees in the following fields of study as appropriate requisites for judicial candidates: (A) Criminal Justice; (B) Education; (C) Political Science, including Government, Politics or Public Policy; (D) Human Rights; (E) Journalism; (F) Legal Studies; (G) Native American Studies; (H) Psychology; (J) Public Administration; (K) History; (L) Business Administration; (M) Economics or Finance; (N) Philosophy; (O) Paralegal Studies; (Q) Family Law.

As seen in the following video excerpt from the March 26, 2014 BC Regular Meeting, BC Treasurer Tina Danforth was willing to support the Emergency Amendments to the Judiciary Law as long as it was amended to include a bachelor’s degree in Social Work among the required fields of study. It was pointed out that the list of the required fields of study was approved by GTC and that adding Social Work went above and beyond simply applying the same requirements to the position of Chief Justice as applies to non-chief judges.

It was recommended that the change Tina Danforth was advocating could be brought up at the July 7, 2014 GTC meeting when the Emergency Amendments would be presented for GTC’s adoption or rejection. Tina Danforth responded by continuing to make thinly veiled digs at BC Secretary Patty Hoeft over where the minutes from the January 7, 2013 GTC Meeting were to back up the claim that GTC had already discussed which fields of study they approved as appropriate.

When Tina’s motion to amend by adding Social Work was voted down by the BC, with a tie vote broken by BC Chair Ed Delgado’s vote against Tina’s amendment, Treas. Danforth opposed the Emergency Amendments altogether saying, “we have to live with what we’ve done and if we didn’t catch it then catching it now at the last hour doesn’t help the process,” and complaining further about a lack of GTC Meeting minutes.  (Oneida Eye apologizes for the sound issues with the video as published by the Tribe):

Two things to consider:

  1. It is Oneida Eye’s understanding that Tina Danforth has a bachelor’s degree in Social Work. (Hmm.)
  2. Tina Danforth has previously raised the issue of the need to “ratify” GTC Meeting minutes before GTC’s votes become ‘official,’ yet she doesn’t seem to apply that standard to GTC’s vote to adopt the Tribal budget. (Hmm hmm.)

UPDATE: On April 10, 2014 the Secretary’s office (or is that Tribal Information Services?) has finally posted the BC resolution regarding applying the same undergraduate studies standards to the Chief Justice as applies to the non-chief judges:

Both that amendment and the one discussed below, BC Resolution 03-26-14-D were placed on a draft agenda for a June 16, 2014 GTC Meeting during the April 9, 2014 BC Meeting:

Later in the March 26, 2014 BC Regular Meeting the BC addressed other issues regarding the Judiciary. Namely, the ‘overwhelming’ case load of the currently operating Family Court and the perceived need to decrease by one the number of elected Trial Court judges (which was established in the Judiciary Law as approved by GTC) and instead allow the BC to hire at its discretion another Family Court judge.

Different options were discussed. A motion was made which Chief Counsel Jo Anne House stated would be out of order as it didn’t conform to the Judiciary Law as adopted by GTC which identifies how many judges would be elected by GTC as opposed to appointed by the BC. It was noted that the matter had to be addressed in a timely manner given the April 12, 2014 Caucus. The BC decided to recess and analyze how to address the various issues, including how Cost Containment could affect any proposed changes.

When the BC later reconvened a new resolution had just been handed out entitled, ‘Adoption of Emergency Amendments to the Judiciary Law/Transition Plan.’

Tina Danforth stated that she felt that the process was being rushed. Chief Counsel Jo Anne House noted that the FY2015 budget was already being approached with an anticipated $30 million deficit, so funding an additional judge position and changing the FY2014 budget would be difficult if not impossible. Jo Anne said that if the BC changed the number of Family Court judges from one to two by eliminating a Trial Court judge position, GTC could later be asked if they want to add another Trial Court judge and changes would have be made to the budgets based on that. Treas. Danforth said the proper process would be to let GTC make the decision about adding another Family Court judge at the July 7, 2014 GTC Meeting.

Council member Melinda Danforth stated that the Judiciary Transition team had to address the Family Court caseload, the request by the Election Board as to how many judge positions they needed to post for the July 12, 2014 General Election, and that the Judiciary is supposed to become active on November 1, 2014.

BC Chair Ed Delgado basically said, ‘Think about the children.’

Appellate Court Chief Judicial Officer Winnifred Thomas said that the Appellate Court’s caseload is often having to overturn decisions by the Personnel Commission and five “other lower hearing bodies” because those original hearing bodies “don’t know the law” but are “collecting all these monies that there is no need for.” Winnifred went on to say that “right now you are looking at breaking the [Judiciary] law that GTC put in place. I don’t like the law. Never did.” She then said that if anything happened to Judge Robert Collins the Appeals Commission and Appellate Court would take over Family Court cases even though it could result in her being relieved of her duties.

BC Chair Delgado asked Chief Counsel Jo Anne House if the BC would be breaking the law if they passed the resolution, to which Jo Anne replied that in her opinion the BC had two authorizations: (1) the Judiciary transition resolution which allows modifications to be made based on identified needs; (2) the Legislative Procedures Act which recognized the ability of the BC to take immediate actions to amend laws and bring it back to GTC in a timely manner to make permanent changes or reverse the intermediate BC decisions.

Council member Melinda Danforth made the motion to approve the resolution and stated that it was “unfortunate” that Winnifred Thomas, as the Chief Judicial Officer of the Appellate body, was “going on record telling the Business Committee that [the BC is] going to go ahead and break the law[.]” The motion was seconded by Brandon Stevens.

The BC approved BC Resolution 03-26-14-D by the following 3-2 vote tally:

Ayes: Patty Hoeft, Brandon Stevens, Melinda Danforth

Nays: David Jordan, Tina Danforth

There were statements made for the record as seen in the video excerpt below:

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