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Friday, October 21, 2016

Tribal Court Judges and Montana Judges Connect #ICWA

Judges connect at conference in Polson

POLSON, MT — Montana District Court judges, water judges, workers’ compensation judges and Montana Supreme Court Justices met at Red Lion Inn in Polson last week for the bi-yearly meeting of the Montana Judges Association, where they exchanged ideas, learned new laws, and got to know each other face to face.

This year Tribal Court Judges from across Montana were invited to join the conference.

“We have the advantage of having a good relations with our tribal judges,” said Twentieth Judicial District Judge Deborah Kim Christopher, president of the Association. “It was really special.” The Association is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the quality of the judicial system, continue education, and provide a forum for the exchange of information and ideas, according to their website. The conference is educational in nature as judges must earn 15 continuing legal education credits per year.

“They were all here making an effort to coordinate and care about what we are doing within the context of what we can accomplish under the law,” Christopher said.

The National Judicial College presented information about the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federally-imposed mandatory regulation for how courts must treat tribal children. The conferences gave judges the opportunity to discuss issues, such as which court has jurisdiction over the cases and how to best maintain family relationships.

“That is why it’s really cool to have tribal judges here,” Christopher said. “Most of the other reservations are closed, but even courts not on reservations must follow the regulations, taking into account social and cultural backgrounds.”

Other larger issues focused on child pornography and how quickly kids can be made a victim in social media, plus what new changes to laws must be taken into account, and how secondary trauma is impacting judges and attorneys.

Polson businesses showed Montana hospitality to the visiting judges, museums opened their doors, and the Polson Chamber of Commerce provided informational bags. Rob and Halley Quist provided music, Polson Mayor Heather Knutson gave a tour of Country Pasta in Polson, Vine and Tap hosted a social time, and other local restaurants and business just treated the judges “really, really well,” Christopher said. “The judges were made to feel welcome, and they said so.”

Meeting face to face and just talking with each other was the highlight of the conference, Christopher said, which helps reach across cultural borders.

“People to people, Montanans can always get things done,” she said

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