Community information: Navajo Nation Supreme Court to review pro hac vice process, halts applications

The Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation has issued an order for the Navajo Nation Bar Association to stop accepting pro hac vice applications pending further order of the court.

Pro hac vice refers to the practice of temporarily allowing an attorney to be admitted to practice law in a jurisdiction where he or she is not licensed.

The order came as part of Thomas A. Biscup v. Kayenta District Court, No. SC-CV-19-19.

Oral argument in the case was heard May 22 before Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne, Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley and Associate Justice by Designation Cynthia Thompson.

The Court announced its decision and later issued a short written order the same day with instructions that a more detailed order will follow.

The chief justice announced the Supreme Court has the ultimate authority over admissions to practice law in the Navajo Nation while also stating the Admissions Committee of the Navajo Nation Bar Association is without written policies and procedures for carrying out its duties.

In the absence of written policies and procedures, the Supreme Court announced it will examine the pro hac vice admission process further. In its written order, the Supreme Court found that a review is imperative.

In this case, Mr. Biscup, who is not a member of the Navajo Nation Bar Association but had applied for pro hac vice admission in 2018, was recently assigned as pro bono legal counsel to a criminal defendant with cases in the Kayenta District Court.

Pro hac vice attorneys, like regular members of the Navajo Nation Bar Association, have an obligation to accept pro bono appointments at no or reduced fees as part of a larger service to the Navajo people. Pro bono work refers to legal services provided for those who cannot afford them.

Mr. Biscup filed a motion to decline appointment or withdraw arguing that an order granting pro hac vice admission was never granted to him by a Navajo Nation Court and, therefore, he had no obligation to accept the pro bono appointment.

The motion was denied by the Kayenta District Court. Mr. Biscup subsequently filed a petition with the Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition to prevent the Kayenta District Court from compelling him to represent the defendant in the assigned cases.

The Supreme Court found that the pro bono appointment was in accordance with Navajo law, but under the circumstances of this particular case, ordered the Kayenta District Court to vacate its order of pro bono appointment of Mr. Biscup.

The Office of Pro Bono Services under the Supreme Court will assign new pro bono counsel in the cases.

Information provided by the Judicial Branch of the Navajo Nation

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