SAN FRANCISCO—Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye has appointed Chief Judge Abby Abinanti of the Yurok Tribal Court as the new co-chair of the Judicial Council’s Tribal Court-State Court Forum.

The forum is made up of California tribal and state court judges, court staff, and representatives from the Governor’s Office and Attorney General’s Office. Judge Abinanti has been a member of the forum since its inception in 2010.

“Tribal and state courts share the same goals of public safety, accountability, and a fair process for those who appear before them,” said Judge Abinanti. “It’s in the best interest for all Californians that these courts coordinate and share resources to achieve a seamless delivery of justice.”

Tribal Court-State Court Forum
The forum develops measures to improve the working relationship between California’s tribal and state courts on areas of mutual concern, such as jurisdictional issues, information sharing, and judicial education.

Forum members have made recommendations, proposed legislation, and dealt with various issues, such as tribal access to confidential juvenile court files and juvenile appellate records, filing and viewing each other’s protective orders, and providing court-appointed counsel for tribal members who are parties to juvenile dependency proceedings.

In addition, the forum helped created a clearinghouse of resources on the Indian Child Welfare Act and on tribal justice systems.

More on Chief Judge Abinanti
Judge Abinanti succeeds one of the original co-chairs and driving force behind the creation of the forum, Chief Judge Richard Blake of the Hoopa Valley Tribe. “Tribal and state courts in California have already learned much from one another,” said Judge Blake, now president of the National American Indian Judges Association. “But there is more work to be done. The forum is in good hands with Judge Abinanti.”

Forum co-chair Justice Dennis M. Perluss, who serves as presiding justice of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Seven, echoed those sentiments. “I’ve had the pleasure of serving on the forum with Judge Abinanti for several years,” added Justice Perluss. “She is a passionate advocate who will help the forum find solutions to challenges that tribal and state courts share.”

Judge Abinanti has been a Yurok Tribal Court judge since 1997, and was appointed Chief Judge in 2007. In conjunction with the Tribal Council, Chief Judge Abinanti was instrumental in expanding Yurok tribal jurisprudence. She also leads the effort to enhance services for Yurok tribal members, families, and children.

Among her innovations: a tribal-run program to help members expunge their criminal records; a tribal child support program; and a wellness court for nonviolent offenders with substance abuse issues. A partnership with the state criminal justice system, the wellness court enables the tribe to transfer its members from state criminal court to the tribal justice system.

In addition to her tribal court career, she also received her JD from the University of the New Mexico School of Law, and in 1974, became the first California tribal woman to be admitted to the California State Bar. She served as directing attorney for California Indian Legal Services, and currently serves as a commissioner for the Superior Court of San Francisco County in its Unified Family Court.

Tribal Courts in California

  • California has 23 tribal courts, representing more than 40 tribes (there are 110 federally recognized tribes in California)
  • The number of tribal courts has more than doubled since 2003
  • Exercise various types of jurisdiction over a range of case types (administrative, civil, family, juvenile, probate, and criminal jurisdiction)

###