By DENISE A. RAYMO
---- — MALONE — Franklin County is working with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, which may want to hire an Indian prosecutor to handle town-court cases that involve tribal members.
“They have, in different meetings I’ve had with the tribe, talked about being sovereign when it comes to public safety,” District Attorney Derek Champagne said.
But, he said, that can’t happen unless the Mohawks have a jail or prison or an agreement for space within an existing site for those accused or convicted of a crime.
And there must also be a system for prosecution on the same level as the community’s law-enforcement agency, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police Department.
“It’s something they’ve been discussing, and I’ve said I’m willing to work with them to hire a Native American prosecutor to handle all of the cases in Town of Bombay Court,” the DA said. “My door’s always open for discussion.”
Champagne has 670 pending cases in Bombay Court, the same number as Malone Town Court, according to year-end figures his office has released.
“It’s an issue that has come up in the course of negotiations,” he said, “but without a prosecutor or a plan to put one in place, there can be no sovereignty because they would still be beholden to our system.
“I’d like to find a common ground,” the DA said.
ADA TURNED JUDGE
Champagne’s office did have a Native American prosecutor at one time. In 2006, the DA used a $50,000 state grant to hire Peter J. Herne as an ADA assigned to prosecute cases with Mohawk defendants. The idea was that a person from the same culture could use not only common means for reaching a disposition in a case but be able to incorporate traditional Mohawk avenues as well.
In 2008, Herne was elected chief justice of the newly created St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Court, a position he still holds.
Other ADAs and Champagne himself have prosecuted Bombay cases since Herne left, but there is hope for change that would reduce his office’s caseload and budget.
He said Tribal Court has taken over other legal aspects involving Akwesasne residents, “so this seems like a natural progression” to add criminal cases.
Tribal Court has divisions for Traffic Court; Civil Court for all non-criminal cases; Family Court, including a Child Support Enforcement Unit; and a Healing-to-Wellness/Drug Court.
The DA’s Office had 2,839 open cases in community courts across Franklin County at the end of 2012. The numbers are: Bangor, 48; Bellmont, 68; Bombay, 670; Brandon, 18; Brighton, 37; Burke, 58; Chateaugay, 62; Constable, 59; Dickinson, 12; Duane, 19; Fort Covington, 115; Franklin, 11; Harrietstown, 21; Malone, 670; Moira, 156; Santa Clara, 6; Village of Saranac Lake, 173; Village of Tupper Lake, 157; Tupper Lake, 63; Waverly, 59; Westville, 57, and 300 cases with no location noted.
Email Denise A. Raymo: firstname.lastname@example.org