Washington State Court Rejects Tribal Court’s Jurisdiction

Elile Adams, center, with her lawyer Gabriel Galanda and father George Adams at the Whatcom County Courthouse after the hearing last Thursday.

Published October 22, 2019

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Last Thursday, the Whatcom County Superior Court dealt a blow to Nooksack Tribal Court Chief Judge Ray Dodge’s efforts to maintain jurisdiction over Lummi citizen Elile Adams and her five-year-old daughter.

Upon finding that the Superior Court has never declined jurisdiction over the custody of Elile’s daughter and being advised that Dodge failed to follow applicable law by conferring with the state court before he attempted to assert jurisdiction, Superior Court Commissioner Angela Cuevas declared “that this Court retains exclusive, continuing jurisdiction” over the custody of the child.

“For the last two and a half years Elile Adams has maintained that Ray Dodge abused his authority by asserting jurisdiction over her child,” said her lawyer, Gabriel Galanda. “A state court has now sided with her.”

Commissioner Cuevas’ ruling is the second order issued by the Whatcom County Superior Court that refuses to recognize Dodge’s jurisdiction as Nooksack Tribal Court Chief Judge.  In late 2016, Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig refused to “recognize as lawful or carrying any legal effect the actions or decisions of the Nooksack Tribal Court” since Dodge assumed the bench.  

The Superior Court’s very latest rebuke of Dodge dates back to late March 2017, when Dodge initiated a civil parenting proceeding against Elile on his own accord, after she sought a domestic violence protection order from the Tribal Court against her daughter’s father.

In immediate protest, Elile presented Dodge with a May 2015, Whatcom County Superior Court Order awarding her custody, which he ignored. Dodge also ignored Elile’s repeated objections to his claimed jurisdiction over her and her child, spanning March 2017 to July 2019.

Washington’s Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction And Enforcement Act prevents a tribal court from modifying a state court custody ruling.  Although a tribal court can assert temporary jurisdiction over a custody matter in emergent or other limited instances, that law requires the tribal court judge to communicate and coordinate with the state court that made the initial custody order.

“Dodge made no effort to confer with the Superior Court—because he was never concerned about the young girl’s best interests,” continued Galanda. “His assertion of jurisdiction was for ulterior purposes. He was just being cruel, using a five-year-old Indian child as a political pawn.”

Dodge’s persecution of Elile and her daughter began soon after her father George Adams appeared before him in Nooksack Tribal Court, in late 2016, as a traditional spokesperson for Tribal Elder Margretty Rabang, who was unlawfully facing eviction at Dodge’s hand. George shamed Dodge for his unethical behavior, speaking exclusively in his Lhéchelesem tongue.

It was then when Dodge established his vendetta against the Adamses, which he started carrying out the following March, when Elile arrived to his courtroom seeking domestic violence protection.

Amidst no less than twenty court orders that he has since issued against Elile, Dodge piled on several felony criminal counts of custodial interference against her in February 2019. Dodge issued a warrant for Elile’s arrest this past July, when she could not personally appear before him in the Tribal Court criminal matter because she was participating in the Northwest Tribes’ annual Canoe Journey.  Her public defender appeared for her but Dodge issued the arrest warrant anyway.

On the morning of July 30, 2019, Nooksack cops Francisco Sanchez, Daniel Bennett, and Brandon Farstad arrived to the Adamses’ home on their first day back from Canoe Journey. They arrested Elile without ever showing her Dodge’s arrest warrant, and attacked George after he asked them under what pretext they were there to arrest Elile.  Elile had never been arrested before.

Elile was imprisoned for almost eight hours before being bailed out from the Whatcom County Jail, where a county booking officer told her that Dodge’s warrant was “bogus” on its face.

“The state court has now basically confirmed that everything Dodge has done to Elile and her child is bogus. He never had civil or criminal jurisdiction in this situation,” continued Galanda. “He has made a mockery of Indian courts and justice systems throughout the country.”

On Friday, Elile amended her federal court habeas corpus case to name Dodge, as well as Nooksack Tribal Court Pro Tem Judge Rajeev Majumdar and Clerks Betty Leathers and Deanna Francis, after the Whatcom County Jail transferred Elile’s bail monies to the Nooksack Tribe.  A defendant released on bail is “in custody” within the meaning of the federal Indian Civil Rights Act, and the bail transfer legally places Elile into Nooksack’s custody for purposes of habeas relief.

Whatcom County jail officials have also taken issue with Dodge’s behavior, telling the U.S. District Court in Seattle that its “writ must be directed to the Nooksack Tribal Judge Raymond Dodge in order to ensure the Petitioner’s unconditional freedom.”

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