The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has made another significant move in establishing the infrastructure for a judicial system within its sovereign government.
Earlier this month, Jeffrey L. Madison was sworn in as the tribe’s first district court judge.
In an interview this week at the tribe’s new government complex, which includes a judicial center complete with a state-of-the-art courtroom, Judge Madison discussed his new position.
No stranger to tribal laws and traditions, Judge Madison is a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Martha’s Vineyard, has served on its tribal council, and was its director of economic development.
“I am humbled and honored to have been chosen to be a judge for the Mashpee tribe. The judicial system is in its infancy here and will continue to grow. I am also very impressed by the facility. The Mashpee have come a very long way in a very short time,” he said.
Judge Madison said that he expects most of his cases to involve Indian child welfare, employment disputes, and housing issues.
Criminal cases involving tribe members would not be heard until the tribe’s federal land-into-trust application for property in Mashpee and Taunton is approved.
Tribal civil cases would only be heard if the parties involved in a dispute decided not to participate in the tribe’s peacemaker process, or could not reach a resolution with the assistance of peacemakers. The tribal peacemaker system of justice allows for the mediation of cases by trained tribe members, with the goal of resolving cases before they head to a court hearing.
“The most impressive part of this job for me is the depth and sophistication that the tribal judiciary has exhibited in the early stages of developing the system. They have done a lot, and done it well, and integrating the peacemaker concept is very important,” Judge Madison said.
Plaintiffs and defendants may bring in their own counsel to tribal court hearings, but they must be members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Bar, which ensures that they are familiar with the tribal constitution and can argue in accordance with the rules of conduct that have been set forth in that document. The attorneys who are members of the bar are not required to be tribe members.
Should one of Judge Madison’s tribal court rulings be appealed, the case would then be heard by one of the tribe’s three supreme court justices—Robert F. Mills, Henry J. Sockbeson, and Rochelle Ducheneaux.
Judge Madison, who would only say that he is in his “60s,” maintains residences on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. He is also an associate with the law firm of Wynn & Wynn in Hyannis.
He has previously served as an executive in the Indian Gaming Division of Carnival Hotels and Casinos and founded First Light Cash Services, which was involved in locating ATMs in Indian casinos across the nation.