Ethics Standards for Tribal Court Clerks

The tribal court clerk is usually the first person that the public comes into contact with when they access the tribal court. The clerk gives the first impression of the court system, so it is important to remember this during every encounter with the public. The clerk should be patient, courteous, fair, and respectful to everyone who comes to the court. There are limitations on what the clerk can do, but the clerk should be as helpful as possible and make people feel comfortable when they approach the tribal court for assistance.

In order to uphold the integrity of the tribal court, tribal court clerks should follow a code of ethics standards of conduct and maintain confidentiality. Many Alaska tribes have written ethics standards for tribal court judges and clerks. These may be written in ordinances or in written rules the courts have developed for their own conduct. Typical ethics standards for tribal court personnel include:

Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety

Court personnel shall not engage in any activity which would put their conduct into question in carrying out the duties of the office including, but not limited to, the following activities:

A. Relationships: Court clerks shall not allow family, social, or other relationships to influence their judgment or their official conduct when carrying out the clerk’s duties. Clerks shall not give the impression that they are in a special position to influence judicial decision making. A clerk must avoid nepotism, favoritism, and unfairness when dealing with the public and any staff that he or she supervises.

B. Gifts: A clerk shall not accept gifts, favors, or loans from anyone who may be reasonably regarded as trying to influence the court. If the clerk is given a gift in the capacity of court clerk, they should report such a gift to their supervisor. javascript:void(0);

C. Alcohol and Illegal Drugs: A clerk shall never be under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs while carrying out the duties of their office. Clerks shall not be under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs while attending any meetings, court sessions, workshops, or training sessions while carrying out their official duties or otherwise representing the tribe.

D. Confidentiality: A clerk shall not disclose to any unauthorized person for any purpose any confidential information acquired in the course of their duties, or acquired through unauthorized disclosure by another. A clerk shall refrain from commenting about proceedings in a court or pending cases that is not already a matter of public record. Confidential information received in the course of the clerk’s duties must remain confidential and must not be used for personal gain. Clerks shall not discuss confidential information regarding tribal court cases and pending cases with anyone outside the tribal court room.

E. Legal Advice: Clerks shall not give legal advice, however they should give information about court procedures when it is requested, or when it would be helpful to any individual who is attempting to understand the court process.

F. Extra-Curricular Activities: Clerks should regulate all extra-curricular activities to minimize the risk of conflict with official duties. A clerk may participate in activities that are civic or charitable as long as they do not detract from the dignity of the office or interfere with the performance of official duties. Clerks shall not use their position as court clerk to influence others when raising donations for any civic or charitable organizations.

G. Conflicts of Interest: Clerks shall not be involved in cases where they have a conflict of interest as defined by tribal law. Each tribe should have a written definition of conflict of interest for their tribal judges and clerks. As a minimum, judges and clerks should not serve on cases involving their spouses or first degree relatives. Most tribes have a broader list than that. Here is an example of a tribal definition of conflict of interest for tribal court judges, but it is a good idea for clerks to remove themselves from cases falling under this definition also:

Conflict of Interest: Judges of the __________ Tribal Court shall remove themselves from hearing a case involving first degree relatives including parents, children, spouses or significant others, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, and anyone living in their same home, except that in emergency situations where temporary decisions are made, judges may be so related. Judges shall remove themselves from any cases in which they have any significant, direct, personal financial or other interest. Judges shall remove themselves from hearing a case in which they cannot be fair for any reason. If a Judge refuses to remove his or herself from a case where they have a conflict of interest, the remaining tribal court judges may hold that judge in contempt of court and temporarily or permanently remove him or her from her position as Judge.