The Eastern District of Oklahoma is expecting additional labor in response to the expected increase in cases after McGirt v Oklahoma.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said during a visit to Tahlequah on Wednesday that he plans to fund four U.S. tribal attorneys who will be responsible for federal and tribal litigation in the Cherokee Nation. The Justice Department is expected to fund 30 new U.S. attorney positions in the three states of Oklahoma over the long term, most of which the East District Attorney Brian Kuester expects to be in his district or the northern district of Oklahoma go.
These steps by the DOJ anticipate the Oklahoma Court of Appeals extending the McGirt ruling from the Creek Nation to the other four tribes in the eastern half of Oklahoma, Kuester said. The July 9 ruling states that Native American defendants must be tried in either federal or tribal courts if they commit a crime on land intended for the Creeks in the 19th century.
"Obviously we didn't plan the McGirt decision when we deployed the resources from the last budget cycle, but we now have urgent needs for our prosecutors and for the prison system," Barr said at the Wednesday meeting of Cherokee heads of state. Kuester and Northern District Attorney Trent Shores.
In the Creek area, which includes much of Tulsa and all of Muskogee, Prosecutor tendencies towards McGirt have already been observed. Kuester said the Eastern District has indicted 46 violent crimes in the Indian country in the nearly three months since McGirt's ruling – an increase of around 360% for an average year in such cases.
This pattern has not yet expanded to Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole countries. But Kuester said he expected this to happen "in the near future".
"McGirt's decision didn't change the law at all. It just broadened the areas in which the federal government has jurisdiction when a Native American commits a crime," Kuester said.
In the eastern and northern districts of Oklahoma, there are currently US attorneys from other federal districts in the country helping them with six month details in response to the rise in the case. According to Charlie Robbins, Public Information Officer for the western district, five US assistant attorneys from the western district of Arkansas serve in the two districts.
The special assistants to US attorneys in the Cherokee Nation would routinely work with both the tribal and federal courts, Kuester said. He also said that he understood that through grants secured prior to Barr's visit, the Choctaw Nation had also raised funds for tribal attorneys.
Kuester said "Challenges will remain" if you change your McGirt law enforcement process. But he was also optimistic after Barr's visit on Wednesday.
"The support from the United States Attorney General, who has been shown to have taken the time to be here and meet with the Cherokee Nation, is absolutely positive," he said. "That should encourage us all."