By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
In an order released on the afternoon of Monday, July 13, the EBCI Tribal Court announced it will be closed for at least the next two weeks.
The announcement stated that an employee at the Court had tested positive for COVID-19. That employee was immediately sent home to isolate, though they had been working after their test between July 6 until July 13, potentially exposing several at the Court.
“The Tribe has a great team of health care professionals, and I consulted with them,” said Tribal Court Chief Justice Kirk Saunooke. “That was the decision that they recommended, was that everyone go home, and we got to be retested. I can’t have anybody back in the building until we get the results. Hopefully, it’s only a two-week deal.”
This is the second positive case among the staff at Tribal Court. The other employee received their results when they were still at home in late June, Saunooke confirmed.
The same issue occurred last week at the Rutherford County courts. After confirming a staff member had tested positive on July 9, the Court closed. They will remain closed until at least July 17.
Every employee at Tribal Court will be getting tested this week and Saunooke says the facilities were vigorously cleaned on Tuesday. He also said that they will continue to handle several cases remotely.
“Certain due process hearings. When someone is arrested, they’re entitled to a hearing within ‘x’ number of days, that’s required by law. Same with DV [domestic violence] cases. There’s some due process considerations there. And, you know, we have some family safety issues where if their process has been initiated, there has to be return hearing within seven days. So, we’re doing those remotely.”
The Court is operating these remote hearings via Microsoft Teams. A clerk and judge are present via video chat from home. Some cases are also handled the same way but called in with just audio. Saunooke said the magistrates are also operating during this closure as well.
“We’re doing it like when we were in the big shutdown. That’s how we were continuing business right then.”
Saunooke said that other hearings will be rescheduled as soon as possible, but the Courts will need to be open for that to happen. Until then, it will be a waiting game as the rest of the staff is tested. If enough staff is negative, they will return to the Court in two weeks. If anyone else is positive, they will have to wait two weeks and receive a negative test before returning to work.
All cases for this July have been cancelled. All acts that were due by July 13 will be considered timely done if completed by Aug. 1.
“Circumstances could change either way,” said Saunooke. “Of course, I want to open back up. Being closed is hard on everyone. A lot of people depend on the Tribal Court.”