By Joe Morey
LCO Secretary-Treasurer Bill Trepanier recently attended a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) meeting in the Twin Cities where he requested over $400,000 in funding that would help the Tribe hire a Public Defender to represent tribal members in Sawyer County Circuit Court.
Trepanier reported to the LCO Tribal Governing Board that the funds were awarded and would be used to hire the PD, a bailiff for Tribal Court, and two deputy clerks. He said the funding would pay for four positions. This would be 2024 funding and fall under the Tribal Court budget.
Trepanier added that the new jobs would be posted soon.
“We want this new position to be representing our people in Sawyer County but, they’ll also be representing them in LCO Tribal Court as well,” Trepanier explained. “What they will all be able to do, we’ll have to wait and see how big the case load gets.”
History of LCO Need
In early 2021, the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board (TGB) established the need for Tribal Members to have representation in Tribal Court. They had a constitutional right, but more than that, TGB saw the need to uphold member’s rights for our traditions and customs to be allowed.
In May of 2022, the TGB made a motion to direct the LCO Legal Department to do the research and establishment of a Public Defender’s office that would not only serve LCO Tribal Members in Tribal Court, but also serve their needs for fair representation in the Sawyer County Court System.
The TGB tasked Legal to look into staffing needs, office space, funding and to make sure the Public Defender would operate independently of the LCO Legal Department.
The need became apparent in recent years with overcrowded jail populations in Sawyer County, whereby LCO Tribal Members made up nearly 75% of that population at times. The TGB decided that Tribal Members needed better representation, which was oftentimes lacked.
It was revealed to LCO News that some felt there was an overzealous prosecution of tribal members in comparison to non-tribal members at the county court level followed by inadequate defense of the members from the state public defenders, thus establishing an immediate and quick need for the Tribe’s own Public Defender’s Office.
“One of the main reasons for the high numbers in the court system is that our people have failure to appears, so it’s important that we have close proximity to Namekagon Transit and to the Reservation,” the Legal Department stated.
It was also explained that access by Zoom is being looked into. Other items being researched are the need for a paralegal investigator, coordination with the state public defender and working with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on the current need.