TGB Passes Resolution to Study Establishment of an LCO Public Defender's Office
By Joe Morey
Over a year ago 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.
More recently, 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 motion made by Tweed Shuman and seconded by Michelle Beaudin passed unanimously. Don Carley and Glenda Barber weren’t present for the vote.
The need became apparent in recent months 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 often times 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.
According to LCO Legal, all tribal members will have access to the new public defender regardless of financial status. The Legal Department is creating a business plan that will recognize the possibility of having up to 3,000 clients with no current budget.
“We will find out where the funding opportunities are and how we will staff the office,” Legal told LCO News. “We will soon have a proposal to the TGB.”
Legal explained they are still researching where best the office should be located since the public defender will be accessible to both the county courthouse and Tribal.
“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.