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Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation's judicial board calls tribal judges incompetent

Opposed parts of the court system on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation are trading accusations of incompetence and poor performance.

The tribe’s judicial board has accused two judges and the clerk of court of incompetence, but lawyers for the tribe say it’s the judicial board itself that is causing problems.

Complaints against the tribal court range from lost documents, to cases taking years to resolve, according to Turtle Mountain Judicial Board Chairwoman Nicole LaFloe. The board investigated court documents, trying to verify the complaints.

“A lot of them were true. They were missing paperwork. Paperwork was being placed in other files,” LaFloe said.

The judicial board says the problem isn’t new and that it has been getting complaints about the court system on the reservation for nearly two decades. The board has formally charged Chief Judge Madonna Marcellais, Judge Andrew Laverdure and Court Clerk Jolene House with incompetence.

“Too many people were hurt in the system and they have nowhere to turn,” LaFloe said.

The judges declined comment, deferring to tribal lawyer Richard Monette. He said the judicial board is the problem, not the judges.

“A lot of the procedures that are supposedly lacking are actually assigned to the judicial board,” Monette said.

The tribe’s constitution states the board creates judicial policy. Monette said any delays are caused by a lack of guidelines to follow.

“So if the judicial board neglects to make rules, like they should, the judges have to move ahead anyway,” he said.

LaFloe said the judges haven’t responded to the charges yet. An impeachment hearing will likely be the next step.

The judges and clerk have 20 days to respond to the charges before an impeachment hearing will be organized.