Tribal court clerks in Alaska have a tremendous job in keeping tribal courts organized and on track with all of the tasks and services that tribal courts provide. Clerks are the backbone of the tribal courts and play a critical role in maintaining and providing continuity for the tribal justice system. Court clerks are responsible for managing the flow of business from the time the court is petitioned to hear a case until that case is closed. They are responsible for accepting Petitions to use the Tribal Court, contacting Judges to determine if the Court will take a case or not, calendaring hearings, getting the Notice of hearings to the parties, contacting Judges when hearings are to take place, setting up the hearing room, recording hearings, providing parties with court documents, and possibly drafting tribal court orders. The responsibilities of the court clerk include assisting the Judges in all aspects of court management, including talking to the public about tribal court processes, maintaining files and a filing system, revising and creating forms, handling fines and restitution payments, and a myriad of other tasks depending on the individual tribal justice system.
Tribal court clerks must generally be familiar with federal, state, and tribal law that applies to the activity of the tribal court. Tribal court clerks must also be familiar with written and unwritten tribal law and practices of the particular tribe they are working for. Each tribe in Alaska has its own unique set of tribal laws and practices, and the structures of tribal courts in Alaska are widely varied. Whatever format the tribal justice system uses, or types of cases the court hears, the clerk is an essential person in setting the scene for the dispensing of justice and healing through the tribal judicial system.
Ongoing training, even for veteran clerks, is important due to new federal laws, regulations, and court decisions regarding tribal courts, particularly in Alaska where the field of tribal court jurisdiction is emerging. It is also important for clerks to talk with each other, from tribe to tribe, to learn from their stories, as well as to share successes and challenges. This online course is not intended to take the place of live training sessions, but is to be used as a tool for the tribal court clerks of Alaska.