--- Am. Tribal Law ----, 2023 WL 4583485 (Colville C.A.), 16 CCAR 10, 8 CTCR 30
Colville Tribal Court of Appeals.
COLVILLE CONFEDERATED TRIBES, Appellant,
Melissa LOUIS-WILLIAMS, Appellee.
Case No. AP23-003
Decided June 1, 2023
Trial Court Case No. CR-2018-41032]
On March 2, 2018 Appellant filed a criminal complaint against Appellee alleging one count of Misuse of Public funds, CTC § 3-1-132, one count of Fraudulent Use of a Credit Card, CTC § 1-3-49, and three counts of Obstructing Justice, CTC § 3-1-134. Appellant hired an outside spokesperson to prosecute the case. On April 26, 2018, Appellant filed an Amended Complaint on the same charges. On January 17, 2018 then Chief Judge Steckel admitted Mr. Rybka to practice in the Colville Tribal Court.
Appellee brought her issues before the Trial Court through several motions to dismiss the charges against her and appealed the rulings of the Trial Court denying the motions to dismiss. We entered an Opinion Order on November 16, 2018 dismissing the Appeal, affirming the Trial Court, and remanding the case to the Trial Court.
Appellee/defendant filed a motion to dismiss the case on April 29, 2019, alleging Appellant’s Special Prosecutor, Tim Rybka, was not a member of the Colville Tribal Court Bar and, therefore, could not represent Appellant. On May 22, 2019 Chief Judge Steckel held that Mr. Rybka had met the minimum requirements of being a member of the bar set out in CTC § 1-1-181, the Tribes specifically hired him to represent the Tribes in this case as a special prosecutor, and the Chief Judge had the authority, when necessary, to waive the requirement that Mr. Rybka take a bar exam. Mr. Rybka signed a Spokesman’s Oath on May 9, 2019 and Chief Judge Jordan admitted him to practice before the Colville Tribal Court by Order dated May 22, 2019.
Appellee filed an Interlocutory Appeal on the May 22, 2019. The Interlocutory Appeal was denied by Order dated June 13, 2019; we found that the issue did not rise to the high standards of interlocutory review of an order as set out in COACR 12-A and CTC § 1-2-117. We found the “Code provides for admission of bar members by the Court. There is nothing to restrict (or define)the procedures for doing so, leaving it to the discretion of the Court.”
Appellee has continued to challenge Mr. Rybka’s representation of the Tribes/Appellant, asking that the criminal charges be dismissed because Mr. Rybka was not qualified to represent litigants in the Tribal Court. She relies on CTC § 1-1-180. On August 16, 2022 Associate Judge Kelley granted Appellee’s Motion to Dismiss the Complaint against her holding that on March 2, 2018 and April 26, 2018, the operatives dates of the filing of the Complaint and the Amended Complaint respectively, Mr. Rybka was not a member of the Colville Tribal Court Bar.
Appellant filed a timely Appeal on the issue. The Initial Hearing was held on April 21, 2023, at which time we reversed and remanded the case to the Trial Court. The reasoning of the decision is set out below.
ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
The issue before us is a question of law, that is, is Mr. Rybka a legal member of the Colville Tribal Court Bar? The standard of review is de novo. CCT v. Naff, 2 CCAR 50 (1995).
We are asked to overturn the Trial Court’s latest finding regarding Mr. Rybka’s status as a Spokesperson eligible to practice in the Coville Tribal Court. It appears Appellee had filed at least nine Motion to Dismiss at the Trial Court for various reasons, and the case had been before at least five Judges throughout the pendency of the case.
According to Appellant’s Motion to Reconsider Judgement [sic] of the Order of August 8, 2022 Associate Judge Kelley dismissed the complaint because he found Mr. Rybka was not allowed to practice in the Trial Court in that he had not met the statutory requirements at the time the first complaint was filed, i.e. March 2, 2018. It appears the Judge relied on some language in our November 16, 2018 Opinion Order regarding pro hac vice practices. In that Order we specifically found that the issue was not first raised at the trial level, so we would not consider it. We went on with some dicta regarding the nature of pro hac vice practice in other Courts and stated it was the first an issue to consider at the Trial Court.
We do not know why the fact that Mr. Rybka was admitted to practice first by Chief Judge Steckel in 2017, and again by Chief Judge Jordan in 2019 was not considered by the Court in the latest ruling of January 13, 2023, the basis of this current appeal. Secondly, we do not know why such a procedural question would invalidate serious criminal charges which have not yet, it appears, to have been brought to a hearing on the merits. The issue of Mr. Rybka’s ability to practice before the Court is being used to collaterally attack the criminal complaints against Appellee, and do not to go the merits of the underlying charges herein.
The Tribes have the right to choose who it wants to represent it in this case. The Tribes hired Mr. Rybka. Two Chief Judges recognized the Tribes’ right to seek counsel of its own choosing, and recognized it chose someone from the Northwest Intertribal Court System (NICS). Two Chief Judges, in exercising their discretion, admitted Mr. Rybka into practice with the Colville Tribal Courts. There has been a ruling by this Court already that such a decision by the Chief Judge did not abuse its discretion. The Trial Court has committed an error in law by its ruling in the January 13, 2023 Order. We so hold.
Base on the foregoing, now, therefore
It is ORDERED that the Order of the Trial Court dated January, 13, 2023 is REVERSED and this matter is REMANDED to the Trial Court for actions consistent with this Opinion.