The Lower Elwha Tribal Court is the most visible expression of the Tribe’s sovereignty and is integral to the Tribe’s self-governance. Establishment of the Tribal Court is reflected in the Lower Elwha Judicial Code and Court Procedures. Section 1.4 provides for two divisions, a trial court and an appellate court, with subdivisions of the trial court to be established upon assumption of jurisdiction over additional kinds of cases. Although the Tribal Code contains a broad grant of jurisdiction under Section 1.6, the Court has only gradually assumed jurisdiction over a broad range of cases.
Currently, the Court presides over adult criminal and juvenile offender cases, exclusions, traffic and other regulatory matters, housing cases, private civil suits, and domestic violence matters (including plans for prosecution of non-Indian defendants under authority of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013). The Court also presides over many cases under the Lower Elwha Family Protection Code, including Minor-in-Need-of-Care dependency cases, guardianship, adoption, youth at risk, curfew and truancy, and protection of vulnerable adults.
The Court seeks to integrate western approaches to justice with cultural and customary paths. Most recently, the Court managed a very successful adult and family Healing to Wellness Court in order to address ongoing substance abuse issues in the community and to afford individuals – especially individuals who are parents – an opportunity to achieve sobriety in a supportive, traditional environment, while reconnecting families and restoring relationships in the community.
The Tribe is in the process of revising portions of the Tribal Code to meet the exigencies of Reservation life in the 21st Century. Along with Code revision, the Tribe is updating and upgrading forms, instruction packets, and staff training and capacity.
The Tribe employs a Chief Judge, a Court Clerk, and a Probation Officer working under the Court’s supervision, while partnering with the Office of Tribal Attorney and in-house Prosecutor to expand the Court calendar. Hearings are scheduled one to three days per week. The Tribe contracts with local private attorneys to provide representation for indigent criminal defendants.
In July 2016, the Tribe opened the Lower Elwha Justice Center, which currently houses the courts, law enforcement, emergency management, and the information technology department. The Justice Center was created through a $3.2 million, year-long renovation of portions of a World War II-era bunker on the Reservation. The Tribe is developing plans for renovation of other parts of the building to house additional Tribal offices.
The Tribal Court serves the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe by providing a fair, efficient, and convenient forum for dispute resolution and, at the same time, by enhancing the overall safety and wellbeing of the community.
Lower Elwha Tribal Court
Lower Elwha Justice Center
341 Spokwes Drive
Port Angeles, WA 98363
Nylene Charles, Court Clerk
Phone: 360.452.6759 ext. 2935
Dawn Stephan, Probation Officer
Phone: 360.452.6759 ext. 2926
Stephanie Hyatt, Public Defender
Phone: 360.565.7257 ext. 7548