Klamath Tribes’ new judiciary building getting primed for opening

Grants for special jurisdictions are in the pipeline

The renovation of The Klamath Tribes’ courthouse, located at 35601 South Chiloquin Road in Chiloquin, Oregon, is expected to be complete by May. Danita Herrera, the Tribe’s judicial Director, invited Klamath Tribes News for an impromptu sneak peek of the building as completion nears.

Renovation was originally slated to begin in July 2023, although it did not begin in earnest until October. Klamath Tribes Planning Director Jared Hall cited a lack of available construction crews from various contractors as an obstacle in initially securing the building’s renovation.

“The general contractor had several projects they were in the middle of and closing out,” said Hall. “So, we had limited crews over there doing stuff, but they’re starting to get more bodies over there, and they can make some more progress.”

Herrera guided this reporter through the corridors of the building, first directing our attention to the multiple attorney-client meeting rooms located immediately outside the courtroom. Before entering the courtroom, attorneys and clients will meet privately. In some instances, a DNA test may be conducted in one of the rooms to confirm or deny paternity between an alleged father and child.

Despite the renovation being not yet complete, the layout of the courtroom became apparent upon entering. The jury box and public benches are located to the left of the entrance. In front of the jury box will be the defendant and plaintiffs’ tables. Across from the tables will be a witness stand situated to the right of the judge’s bench and a booth for each clerk and bailiff – a standard courtroom layout.

“When you walk in here, you’re not walking into Klamath County Courthouse; you’re walking into a Klamath Tribes court building,” said Herrera, expressing her desire to have a sign, like a coat of arms, representative of the Tribes outside the building. “So, let’s try to have something that shows that. We would like to have something that has a design, maybe a basket design, as part of our culture here that actually expresses, ‘This is who we are as a people, The Klamath Tribes,’ not just like Klamath County Courthouse – you walk into it, there’s no culture, there’s just a judicial building.”

Herrera said The Klamath Tribes judiciary logo will be displayed above the judge’s bench.

Walking out the opposite door of the courtroom and into the corridor, there is a series of rooms, one of which will be designated the judge’s office. Other rooms will be designated for the bailiff, a probation officer, and victim services offices. Herrera added that The Tribes currently have a juvenile probation officer, whom they hope to transfer to the Public Safety Department, hired full-time.

“We’re going to contract with a public defender,” said Herrera, touching on hiring plans and obtaining special jurisdictions – the powers of a court to adjudicate cases and issue orders. So that’s in our next grant. And that’s the special jurisdiction. And that is when a non-tribal person commits a crime against a tribal person. So, let’s say a domestic violence case, then we have a grant specifically for that; it’s a special jurisdiction grant. Those jurisdictions are opening up.”

Work is ongoing to complete the new Klamath Tribes judiciary building. (Ken Smith/Klamath Tribes News)

Herrera elaborated further on the special jurisdictions The Klamath Tribes seek to secure, citing an example where a non-tribal individual works for the Tribes. “Let’s say you owe child support,” she said, “your employer [in this hypothetical case, The Klamath Tribes] gets contacted to garnish your wages for child support that you owe, but you’re non-native, so then the Tribal Child Support program would say, ‘Hold on, we’re going to register that case.’ So, we would register your case in our tribal court, and we would do the garnishment.”

Herrera said that currently the nearest local court to order wage garnishments is located in Medford.

Klamath Tribes Victim Services is seeking to hire a Healing Winds Advocate, under the purview of the Healing Winds Program Manager, to “respond to emotional, psychological, and/or physical needs of crime victims through utilizing training, coordinating services amongst several entities, facilitating warm hand-offs to other agencies, interagency case management, and assisting victims with accessing from other agencies/programs, per The Klamath Tribes’ position description. An advocate will maintain regular contact with the victim via phone, virtual, and face-to-face meetings. The last of which will be conducted in one of the victim services offices. This is not an exhaustive list of responsibilities.

Trauma survivors often have difficulty comprehending complex court proceedings. Herrera pointed out that, considering these circumstances, an advocate will attend court hearings with the victim to help him or her better understand the proceedings, oftentimes taking notes.

Continuing through the labyrinthine corridors of the building, the scope and scale of the building unfold. A kitchen is being furnished with the necessary appliances, something less abstract than the everyday inner workings of the law.

As we stepped outside, Herrera reflected on the journey the Tribes have taken to get to this point, on the cusp of the courthouse’s opening. “I think the building is a perfect size for the court services and child support,” she said while acknowledging the multi-year process from initial funding under the American Rescue Plan Act to now. “So, I’m really excited about the renovation and being able to see our members here and provide services to them.”