UA Student Practitioners Learn the Law in Tribal Court
Those in the Tribal Justice Clinic are obtaining valuable, real-world experience in the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Court — and advancing the rights of indigenous people.
Last October, Pete Sabori, a third-year student in the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, became the first from the UA to appear as a student practitioner in tribal court representing a tribe. As a participant in Arizona Law's Tribal Justice Clinic, Sabori represented the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, acting as a prosecuting attorney in a juvenile criminal case.
Sabori (Gila River/Hopi) acted as lead counsel during the court hearing thanks to a new student-practice rule adopted by the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Court. The rule allows students enrolled in the Tribal Justice Clinic to appear in court under the supervision of a licensed attorney. In addition to giving students practical courtroom training, the Tribal Justice Clinic addresses a wider community need to train lawyers in how to practice in tribal court settings.
Tribal Justice Clinic director James Diamond serves as special prosecutor with the tribe and is assigned cases when there is a conflict of interest. O.J. Flores, the tribe's chief prosecutor and a UA alumnus, assigns cases to Diamond.
Under Diamond's supervision, Sabori and his teammates, second-year law student Alexis Zendejas (Omaha) and graduate student Derek Kaunaoe (Native Hawaiian), worked on the juvenile criminal case and attended court proceedings throughout the fall semester. The students joined Diamond in several court appearances, prepared pleadings and motions, and negotiated and conducted a case adjudication.
"It has been a pleasure working alongside the clinic team in assisting Professor Diamond with cases," Sabori said. "Handling these issues from referral to disposition and appearing in court has been invaluable to understanding the criminal justice process at the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Court."
Added Kaunaoe: "The Tribal Justice Clinic provided me with an amazing opportunity to experience indigenous self-determination and self-governance at work in the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Court."
Three UA students — Sabori, Kaunaoe and Garrett Holm — passed the Pascua Yaqui Court Tribal Bar Examination this spring. Holm led the legal efforts of a second team of students, prosecuting an adult criminal case involving a serious assault that took place on the reservation. Holm represented the tribe in the case in an early January plea and sentencing hearing.
The UA's Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program has a long-standing partnership with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. Collaborations between the Tribal Justice Clinic and the Office of the Prosecutor afford students the chance to work with leading legal practitioners and increase access to justice for Yaqui community members.
The Pascua Yaqui Tribe has made great strides in addressing barriers to justice faced by Yaqui community members. Through implementation of the Tribal Law and Order Act and provisions in the Violence Against Women Act that extend tribal jurisdiction to non-Native offenders of domestic violence, the tribe has gained recognition as a leader in innovative approaches to tribal law and justice.
In addition to their work as prosecutors, Tribal Justice Clinic students engage in a variety of civil litigation and administrative and regulatory work for tribes and indigenous peoples across the country. Some recent projects include clinic students serving as law clerks on behalf of water protectors resisting the Dakota access pipeline in North Dakota, drafting an environmental regulatory code for the Yurok Tribe of California, and drafting a code of evidence for the Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona.
"The work our law students do in the field has advanced the rights of indigenous people in the United States and across the world," Diamond said. "The students will remember IPLP's clinical programs the rest of their careers, and their careers will be enhanced by the work they did here. I'm very proud and humbled by this group of future leaders."
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