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Jill E. Shibles, chief judge of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court in Connecticut for the past six years, is leaving the reservation, effective today, to head up the newly established National Tribal Justice Resource Center in Boulder, Colo. A member of the Penobscot Nation of Maine, Shibles is the second chief judge in the tribal court’s eight-year history. Shibles’ colleagues praise her for molding the court — located in a modest facility within walking distance of the enormous Foxwoods Casino, also in Mashantucket — into a model system of tribal justice. “She certainly has helped elevate our court on a national level,” proclaimed New London, Conn., attorney Thomas J. Londregan, one of the court’s two part-time judges. As past president of the National American Indian Court Judges Association (NAICJA), Shibles has addressed Congress on the importance of tribal courts and the lack of funding they receive. She also worked with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to secure a grant from the Justice Department to launch the tribal justice resource center. Long proposed by the NAICJA, the center will aid the roughly 250 emerging and established tribal court systems around the country, according to Mary T. Wynne, the association’s current president. Shibles says she had no plans to become the center’s executive director. But when she and other NAIJCA members started thinking about who they could get to run the new organization, the rest of the group “kind of laughed and said ‘you should,’” she noted. The center will be housed in the Boulder offices of the National Indian Law Library and provide a free, searchable Internet database of tribal court opinions. It also will offer tribal courts training and technical assistance, and create a 1-800 “helpline” for tribal court personnel. Shibles said the most difficult part of accepting the job was leaving the East Coast. But she added that she will stay well-connected to her Connecticut colleagues through the resource center’s mentoring program. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court has agreed to serve as a mentor to less-developed tribal justice systems, she said. Londregan, of Conway & Londregan in New London, said he will serve as chief judge on an interim basis until a replacement for Shibles is found.

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