Federal Judge To Decide Whether State Judge Must Produce Records of Communications with Other State Judges Who Hear Child Abuse and Neglect Cases

Federal law provides special protections to Native American children who are involved in any type of family law cases, to preserve the American Indian heritage.

In South Dakota, certain Sioux Indian tribal nations are contending that, in cases where the State removes Native American children from American Indian homes on grounds of alleged abuse or neglect, State judges are denying American Indian parents the opportunity to present a meaningful defense, such as by cross-examining South Dakota’s child welfare agency workers, or offering proof of their own fitness to care for their children or evidence that they did provide appropriate care to their children.

Accordingly, those American Indian tribes are suing the state of South Dakota over such alleged violations of the US Indian Child Welfare Act.

The tribes’ and families’ ACLU attorney contends that all of the local judges follow the same procedures in child custody cases where abuse or neglect is alleged. The plaintiffs are seeking evidence as to the source of those procedures.

Accordingly, the tribes and certain family members are seeking records of a chief administrative judge’s communications with other judges regarding procedures in child custody cases alleging abuse or neglect.

But that chief administrative judge has refused to release any of the records requested, maintaining that they are confidential based on judicial privilege. The chief judge has also objected to inquiries as to whether he has even had any such conversations.

The chief administrative judge has an attorney too, and his attorney argues that, in order to carry out their responsibilities, judges must be free to communicate confidentially with each other and their staffs about the difficult issues that are involved in child abuse and neglect cases.

A federal judge is expected to rule by the end of the month on whether the chief administrative judge must release the records.

Read more in this [Sioux Falls, SD] Argus Leader news article: Judge delays ruling in Indian child welfare lawsuit