Law and Order Committee receives poor performance review
Currently, the Navajo Nation is facing 25,000 backlogged cases
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – On Nov. 27 the Navajo Nation Council’s Law and Order Committee (LOC) received two reports from the Navajo Nation’s Judicial Conduct Commission (JCC).
The Judicial Conduct Commission is an independent entity that receives administrative support and assistance from the Judicial Branch of the Navajo Nation. Their responsibilities include investigating complaints or grievances against justices and judges, issuing findings and recommending sanctions, and forwarding recommendations for suspension or removal of a justice or judge, as appropriate.
During an executive session, Justice (Emeritus) Robert Yazzie, Chairman of the JCC, provided a report on the number of complaints received and their process to address those complaints.
After the conclusion of the executive session, public safety concerns were openly discussed.
LOC Chair Eugenia Charles-Newton, (Shiprock), Vice-Chair Cherilyn Yazzie (Dilkon, Greasewood Springs, Indian Wells, Teesto, Whitecone),
Delegate Steven R. Arviso (Churchrock, Iyanbito, Mariano Lake), and Delegate Nathan Notah (Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti, Tohatchi, Bahastl’a’a’) were in attendance.
Currently, the Navajo Nation is facing 25,000 backlogged cases.
According to the report, the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch faces challenges in soliciting candidates to fill judge and judicial staff vacancies, due to several factors including uncompetitive salaries. Currently, JCC is operating from salary budgets outlined in 2006. Other factors include dilapidated working facilities, unreliable technology, and insufficient housing throughout the Nation.
Human Resources Director, Cheron Watchman and Acting Administration Director for the Judicial Branch Karen Francis, have been delegated to assist the Commission with their workload.
“With staffing shortages across the Divisions of Public Safety, including the Police Department and Judicial Branch, it continues to pose risks for people of the Nation, naturally leading to an increase in, missing persons cases, domestic violence, and other major crimes. We need help, we need to figure this out, the Navajo People are expecting and relying on us to fix this” Arviso said.
Charles-Newton responded to Yazzie’s concerns regarding the budget for salaries stating that the current Chief Justice, JoAnn Jayne, has an opportunity with the Three Branch Agreement to negotiate for an increase in funds. Charles-Newton reiterated that during the 24th Navajo Nation Council, Chief Justice Jayne was asked why she did not request for additional funding for the Judicial Branch. The most recent Three Branch Agreement for the comprehensive budget was signed in June 2023, also without a request for an increase to salaries.
“Negotiations need to happen during the Three Branch Agreement process, once the council receives the final budget agreement, there is very little the council can do to adjust or move those funds, so it is critical that Chief Justice see the opportunity to advocate for funding for her division and ultimately, the Navajo People during that window of opportunity,” Charles-Newton said.
The second report was provided by Karen Francis on the status of employee performance reviews of the five current judges. Each employee is to have an evaluation every six months upon hire.
“Listening to the various divisions citing the same underlying issues, we need to stop talking about these issues over and over. We need to approach this on a greater level, we should explore the idea of having a safety summit with all departments, agencies, to document, brainstorm and take action,” said Delegate Notah.
The Law and Order Committee approved both reports.
Information provided by the Navajo Naiton Council.