WEWOKA, Oklahoma – The Seminole Nation purchased a building to hold district court hearings that resides just 200 feet within the Muscogee Nation reservation boundaries at 206 E. 2nd St. Wewoka, Okla.
Instead of building a rift over the purchase, the judges of each court saw this as an opportunity to work together to provide justice with the full support from the National Council passing TR 22-177 (http://www.mcnnc.com/images/pdf2022/bills/22-177.pdf) during the Regular Session on Dec. 17.
The Resolution includes a Memorandum of Understanding between the MCN District Court and the Seminole Nation District Court for shared use of courtrooms to conduct judicial hearings.
The Seminole Nation Chief District Judge Steve Barnes said that this would allow his court to remain in session inside the reservation boundaries of the MCN.
“This would require a special authority for the MCN to allow us to hold our court there,” Barnes said.
According to Barnes, in addition to the building purchase, the Seminole Nation plans to construct two more courtrooms that the MCN District Court can use as a satellite space.
The building will contain a 13,00 square feet area and another 5,000 square feet area with the ability to house jury trials and the other side for non-jury trial hearings. An office space will be available for the visiting judge and the judge’s clerk.
Barnes said the space would be able to accommodate both courts’ needs.
“The Agreement is to benefit both tribes,” Barnes said.
Each tribe would still hold its sovereignty and the ability to apply its laws upon individuals inside their court.
The Muscogee Nation houses a single courtroom in the Mound Building on the Nation’s main complex in Okmulgee, where court cases flow through and, at this time, are piling up as the court as a result of reaffirmation of the jurisdiction to tribes.
For the MCN, additional space would allow the District Court to “enhance and strengthen the timely and secure administration of justice” to the citizens. For the Seminole District Court, this would allow them to continue pursuing justice in the courtroom, although it lies within the Muscogee Reservation.
Nothing in the Agreement transfers additional rights, jurisdiction, responsibilities, or obligations of either party other than the time and space of said courtroom.
Former District Court Judge Shannon Prescott expressed the considerable need for courtroom space in the Business, Finance, and Justice Meeting on Dec. 8 and again during the Regular session.
“The court is definitely overwhelmed with the number of cases,” Prescott said. “At this point, we’re using any place we can put them; I did court in the hallway one day.”
While the MCN is looking to expand services within the District Court, Prescott said that the Nation should utilize existing resources and even be open to partnerships with other tribal courts to use their spaces.
“That saves us money in the interim while we’re looking to build a new court,” Prescott said.
Still determining when a new courthouse could be built, Prescott said that the Nation should consider each county within the Reservation as judges can travel with their means and jurisdiction to provide services.
Citizens with court cases would benefit highly from the idea by having the opportunity to attend a hearing much closer to home instead of coming to Okmulgee.
Some citizens have to travel far for court, and some face barriers to transportation. Prescott claims this has resulted in warrants and additional charges to an individual’s case in the past.
“We have to go to our people. It doesn’t do us any good to help our fellow citizens if we’re not providing that service to them,” Prescott said.
Prescott said the criminal docket has increased from 30-40 cases Pre-McGirt to the latest docket containing over 500 jury trials.
“Space is important,” she said. “Utilizing those existing resources, especially with one of our Five Civilized Tribes, is a great idea. I don’t see why it would be bad.”
Some of the details are yet to be determined as far as scheduling court hearings or jury trials. They will be announced at a later time.
For more information, contact the MCN District Court at 918-758-1400.