Yazzie: building, third justice needed

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Dec. 26, 2013

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Not much has changed over the last couple of years for the tribe's chief justice, Herb Yazzie.

Despite efforts to convince tribal leaders of the need for a judicial center, which would include hearings rooms for the Navajo Supreme Court, Yazzie still remains in cramped office quarters in the former Damon Building just east of the First American Credit Union.

And despite efforts to get the Navajo Nation Supreme Court back up to three justices, the court has remained at two members for all of this year. In fact, the supreme court has had to operate with two permanent members more often than not throughout much of Yazzie's eight years as chief justice.

As respect for the Navajo Judicial System continues to grow outside of the Navajo Reservation, Yazzie said the need becomes even greater to have a justice system that shows that the Navajo Nation is not only proud of its court system, but has respect for it.

He said it's even more important when it comes to the Navajo people.

"It's awfully hard to get that respect," he said. "How can you get people to respect the law and observe it if they see the law being practiced in trailers?"

He said the design has been done and the land has been selected -- all it needs now is the funding, about $19 million -- and he pledged to keep on trying in 2014 to get financial support for the project.

The lack of three permanent judges on the supreme court has resulted in fewer cases being decided each year. Two years ago, the supreme court heard 15 cases. That went down to 10 cases in 2012 and in 2013, only five cases were decided.

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