Thanks to M.O. for pointing this out.
From the ABAJ:
One of the notable trends in the legal ethics field over the past several years has been a gradual movement toward more uniformity in the substance and application of professional conduct rules.
There is little, if any, expectation that the states will fall into complete lockstep on how they apply ethics principles for lawyers and judges, or how they structure their disciplinary systems. But the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct and Model Code of Judicial Conduct have served as starting points for efforts to bring more uniformity to the field. The Model Rules, for instance, have been adopted in some form by every state except California.
But in Indian country — the lands occupied by more than 600 tribes recognized by the U.S. government as sovereign entities — that trend hasn’t caught on. And experts say it is unlikely that there will be much uniformity any time soon in the way that tribal courts address ethics and discipline issues for lawyers and judges.
“Tribes are all over the place on this,” says B.J. Jones, director of the Tribal Judicial Institute in the Northern Plains Indian Law Center at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. “A lot of them do use the ABA Model Rules,” says Jones, who serves as chief judge for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and chief justice for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and is admitted to practice in a number of tribal courts. But, he says, “It’s hard to gauge what the most prevailing form of discipline is.”
The somewhat random pattern of ethics rules for lawyers and judges in Indian country reflects the nature of general rules and procedures in tribal courts, says W. Gregory Guedel, who chairs the Native American Concerns Committee in the ABA Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, and other practitioners in the field.
“The thing that makes it both interesting, complex and a little maddening at times is that every tribe’s system is different,” says Guedel, chairs the Native American Legal Services Group at Foster Pepper in Seattle. “Some tribes have extremely well-developed legal codes and court procedures that are as intricate and broad as any non-tribal system. Other jurisdictions have just adopted the federal code or whatever is available because they won’t have the resources.”
Tribal jurisdictions vary greatly, says Paul Stenzel, an attorney in Shorewood, Wis., outside Milwaukee, who represents a number of tribes. “Some are handling a complete range of topics and cases that you would see in a state court, almost, with the exception of major felonies,” he says. “Smaller ones are doing very narrow dockets, maybe only hunting and fishing violations, maybe only adoptions or family law. And there’s everything in between.”
IMPETUS FOR CHANGE
Increasingly, there are good reasons for tribal courts to firm up conduct codes for lawyers and judges, and to identify ethics issues on which a more uniform approach might be beneficial.
Some of that impetus should come from passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 (PDF), which President Barack Obama signed into law on July 29. The act gives tribal courts and police more authority to deal with crimes committed in Indian country, and promises more federal money to help bolster tribal justice systems.
“The act gave a lot of people the thought that, ‘Let’s not stop there. Let’s continue and see what else we need to do,’ ” says Guedel. “There’s a lot of discussion in general about it.”
Economic considerations are another reason for tribal courts to take a harder look at their ethics rules for lawyers and judges. As some tribes have gained wealth — often in the form of casino revenue — their financial operations have become more complex and their commercial dealings with outside entities have grown.
“Private businesses are very afraid of the notion of a tribal court,” Guedel says. “Tribes have recognized that impression and have been trying to say, ‘This is a legitimate system. This is not just a kangaroo court.’ The adoption of the model codes in wide usage, which people understand inside and outside the tribal context, would be helpful in that regard. You would have a level playing field. A business that’s considering doing business with a particular tribe would say, ‘At least we’ve got an understandable way to resolve our differences.’ ”