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Intertribal Court Wins Recognition and Jurisdiction from Washington State Court


A recent child custody case in Valley Center, California became the latest example of how Southern California Intertribal Court has continued to expand its jurisdiction and gain recognition from state courts.

The case filed by a mother with the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians Tribal Court followed filings from the non-Native father with the Superior Court of Washington. After two hearings the Washington State Court sided with the mother, a tribal member, that the case should be settled in tribal court.

The case involves a Rincon tribal member, who was in a relationship with a non-Native in Stevens County, Washington. After having a child together she chose to move back to the reservation due to reportedly being in an abusive situation and fearful the man in question would harm her. The mother had a domestic violence restraining order from the Rincon Tribal Court and was seeking a permanent order through the court when the father attempted to circumvent the tribal court by applying for custody in the State of Washington.

The initial filing by the father took place in Stevens County, Washington, but a state judge agreed that the proper venue, despite the father’s Washington-filing, was the tribal court, where the case remains.

Chief Judge Anthony Brandenburg, the senior judge, presiding over the matter along with California attorneys, representing the minor, the tribe and the mother used the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdictional Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) to convince the judge the case belonged in Tribal Court.

“In a textbook situation with a non-Indian father, as a result of the expertise and determination of Judge Brandenburg and his staff, the Rincon Tribal Court was able to make the case. The net result was having earned jurisdiction from another state’s superior court, in order to protect the rights of an Indian mother,” said Bo Mazzetti, chairman of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians in complimenting the position of the state court.

“This is not the first time we have been successful in matters of this type. But it was an important milestone for the court, and it took a great deal of work. We have had cooperation with state judges from a variety of jurisdictions,” Brandenburg said. He went on to explain that in cases involving tribal children, “We have been and continue to be very successful in acquiring jurisdiction here at the tribal court.