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Four Native American villages in Alaska won a preliminary victory from the Alaska Supreme Court in their civil-rights suit seeking to end alleged violations of federal laws that protect Native American foster children from being removed from their communities. Four Jones Day attorneys, three from the D.C. office and the fourth in Shanghai, China, represented the villages pro bono, along with the Alaska Legal Services Corp. Ted Bilich, a D.C.-based Jones Day partner who argued the case before the Alaska Supreme Court in 2004, waited for more than two years for the court’s unanimous decision on Dec. 15. “I was hopeful from the get-go that we were going to prevail,” he says. “All too often what we contend has happened in the past is that kids end up losing their identity as Native Americans because they are taken out of the context in which their culture means something and put in a culture that is profoundly alien to them.” The court ruled that the villages could not bring claims on their own behalf but could sue on behalf of their members. The case could encourage Native American tribes in other states to file civil-rights suits over violations of federal law pertaining to foster care, adoption, and possibly other areas.
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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