Early in September, judges Duane Gopher and Melody Bernard-Whitford were fired from their positions as tribal judges on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation. Both said they would appeal, but only Bernard-Whitford did so. On Thursday, her appeal was denied.
But she vows to continue fighting.
“I am nothing short of appalled, this was not my grievance hearing but that of the Court Administrator, Judicial Commission, and the staff they recruited to assist carrying out their plan of attack,” Bernard-Whitford said in a statement to the Herald.
“The grievance committee buckled under political duress, there is no way on God’s green earth a law-trained Judge or someone with common decency would uphold a complaint that contained misinformation and false statements alleged to be made by the Court. This is not justice, this is nothing short of insanity and dirty politics! Well played!”
The Chippewa Cree Tribal Court began advertising for an interim chief judge on Facebook Sept. 24. Gopher was the chief judge.
Bernard-Whitford served for six years as the associate judge, handling adult criminal cases. Her position was appointed. According to her notice of termination, dated Sept. 5, she was fired for misconduct.
On Aug. 7, the tribal Judicial Commission says, Bernard-Whitford told someone in court, “There is a rule, snitches get stitches.”
“This statement from a Judge position is highly frowned upon within any court system,” the Commission said.
Nineteen days later, Bernard-Whitford told someone in court, “Tell your husband to get his dope elsewhere.”
Bernard-Whitford said the comments cited in her termination letter were taken out of context to justify a firing that is really the result of a tangled personal vendetta that has nothing to do with courtroom conduct. She went on to say that she’s presided over some “highly political cases,” including at least two criminal cases involving a judicial member and immediate family members.
Bernard-Whitford maintained that what she did and said in the courtroom is nothing she hadn’t done before, and there is nothing unethical about it.
She said she told a man in her court that “snitches get stitches” as a way to help him understand that she knew why he didn’t want to reveal who’d assaulted him. The man had been beaten while in jail and looked every bit the part at the time of the hearing, she said. As a former police officer, she said, she understands there is a code among inmates that says people who tell on other inmates will be hurt.
The point, she said, is she was trying to get the man to open up about who assaulted him by assuring him that she understands why he was reluctant to do so, but in order to help him, it would help to reveal his attacker.
As for the second charge against her, that too is perfectly within proper conduct, she believes.
She did tell someone in her courtroom to tell her husband to get his drugs somewhere else, the former judge said. The reason is because the woman, who had drug-related charges against her, told the judge she was getting drugs for her husband.
“Why are you tarnishing your criminal history by committing criminal acts for someone else?” the judge said, repeating her courtroom admonition.
The Appeals Board, made of Harriet Standing Rock, Samuel Camper and Allen LaMere, declared the decision final.
But the former judge has plans to address the tribal Business Committee and file a suit in Tribal Court to get her job back.
Bernard-Whitford especially takes issue with one Appeals Board member who had a say in the latest appeal.
In 2010, Allen LaMere received a 12-month prison sentence for stealing $23,000 from the Rocky Boy School district during his time as a district clerk. LaMere pleaded guilty to the theft charge against him.
“A felon judging a Judge on alleged misconduct?..lol. Ugh, politics!” she said in an email to the Herald.
Email Paul Dragu at firstname.lastname@example.org