Introduction and Overview

The primary activities for tribal court clerks before a hearing include receiving the petition to use the tribal court and presenting the petition to the judges or a designated review team, calendaring a hearing if the decision is to take a case, and providing Notice to all parties in a case. Tribal court clerks are often required to develop or modify tribal court forms that are used in these activities, and are also responsible for filing and retaining records.

Once a petition to use the tribal court has been received, the clerk organizes a meeting of the judges or designated review team to review the petition, and to decide whether or not to take the case. Sometimes the clerk is part of the review team. Each tribe has its own method of reviewing petitions to make this decision, but whatever the method is should be written in the tribe’s judicial code or court rules.

The review team first determines if the tribal court has jurisdiction over the subject matter (what the case is about) and jurisdiction over the persons involved in the case (such as tribal members, those eligible to be tribal members, or someone in a consensual relationship with the tribe or a tribal member). If it is determined that the tribe has jurisdiction, and the subject is one that the court is authorized by the tribal council to hear, then the review team is charged with the decision of whether to take that particular case or not. Tribal courts do not have to hear every case filed, and there are multiple reasons why tribal courts may not take a particular case.

If a petition is denied, the court clerk should write a letter of denial as soon as possible so that the person can take the case to another court if they so choose. If the Petition is accepted, the clerk gives the case a number and calendars the case (determines the date and time of the hearing and places the information on a court calendar). The clerk then sends a Notice that includes the hearing time, date, and purpose of the hearing, along with a copy of the petition and any other paperwork submitted to the court, to all parties in the case. This is a good practice even if the Petition has indicated that they have sent the documents to the other parties, as the court will be assured that all parties have actually been sent all of the pertinent information. Providing Notice to Parties is a fundamental part of providing Due Process, which is required of all tribal courts.