Tribal Court-State Court Forum

Judge PerlussJudge Richard Blake


By Judge Richard C. Blake (R) and Justice Dennis M. Perluss (L)




What began with a simple request by one tribal court judge for a meeting with the Chief Justice of the State of California has taken us to where we are today: the coming together of tribal court and state court leaders as equal partners to address areas of mutual concern. The stage was set for this historic meeting by Judge Richard C. Blake, who on behalf of the Northern California Tribal Courts Coalition, initiated the meeting that led to the establishment of the Tribal Court-State Court Forum (forum), a body now formally recognized by the California rules of Court. The forum’s approach has been strategic, and the keys to its early success are, in part, due to: (1) the forum’s composition; (2) establishing common ground; (3) focusing on quickly achievable solutions; and (4) prioritizing child welfare cases.

Why is the composition so important? The forum is comprised of nearly equal representation from tribal and state court judges. Equal representation is critical because the forum is a collaboration that is not owned by either the tribal justice systems or the state court system. Because state and tribal courts face numerous practical issues related to the recognition and enforcement of each other’s orders, having judges who understand and deal with these issues on a regular basis leads to a problem-solving approach to the issues. The forum also includes members from other state judicial branch advisory committees, who serve as ambassadors throughout the branch and join in recommending statewide policies that address these issues.

Establishing Common Ground What is the work?
Early on, forum members identified their scope of work, a set of shared values and principles to guide their work, and a communication plan. These discussions helped members develop initial trust and identify areas of common concern.

Focusing on Quickly Achievable Solutions
Focusing on quickly achievable solutions is a great way to take action while building relationships, sharing experiences, and learning from one another. It, can, moreover increase the likelihood of greater success with more challenging problems. Here are a few examples:

  • Sharing educational resources— extending invitations to each other to go to conferences sponsored by tribal and state courts and co-hosting cross-court cultural exchanges on tribal lands;
  • Sharing legal expertise— providing technical assistance, such as sharing court forms, which has resulted in some tribal courts adapting them for use in their tribal courts;
  • Sharing technology— using technology so that tribal and state court judges can view each other’s protective orders (;
  • Adult Guardianships and Conservatorships (SB 940) — - developing legislative language to address issues involving conservatorships for members of Indian tribes located in California. See Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act adopted as California Conservatorship Jurisdiction Act, Chaptered as Stats. 2014. Ch.553, effective January 1, 2016 (;
  • Child Support—- developing a new rule for title IV-D case transfers to tribal court (;
  • Comity for Tribal Civil Judgments (SB 406) —- developing a legislative proposal to clarify and simplify the process by which tribal civil judgments are recognized by the state courts of California and enforced just as any state civil judgment would be. See link to initial proposal: See Tribal Court Civil Money Judgment Act, Chaptered as Stats. 2014, Ch. 243, effective January 1, 2015 ( ; and
  • Protective Orders—- identifying solutions to address enforcement problems (

Priority: Child Welfare Cases
The forum made its top priority child welfare cases, because members shared a deeply held belief that children must not be lost to their families and tribes, and that they needed to be assisted in maintaining or reconnecting to their tribal culture and traditions. Motivated by this belief and the knowledge that the forum could positively impact the lives of Native children and families, it has implemented the following policies:

In conclusion, the forum has made strides in identifying statewide solutions that are responsive to local court concerns for the benefit of American Indian/Alaskan Native citizens. What we have learned is that neither the state judicial system nor the tribal justice systems have the answers, but together we can make progress toward lasting solutions for the citizens served by our courts.


1 For more information about the forum, see

About the Authors

HON. Richard C. Blake is a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Chief Judge of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Court, the Smith River Rancheria Tribal Court and the Redding Rancheria Tribal Court. He is the President of the National American Indian Court Judges Association (NAICJA) and a NAICJA region 2 board member, representing tribal court judges located in California, Nevada, and Hawaii. Judge Blake is the founder of the Northern California Tribal Court Coalition, consisting of seven developed or developing tribal courts. He earned an undergraduate degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California. Judge Blake is an alumnus of the National Judicial College at the University of Nevada, Reno. Judge Blake is also co-chair of the California Tribal Court-State Court Forum and a former member of the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Foster Care. Judge Blake has been a faculty member with the National Center for State Courts, conducting trainings throughout the United States on Project Passport/Domestic Violence Protection Order issues.

Justice Perluss has served as Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Seven, since January 2003. He was appointed an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal (also in Division Seven of the Second Appellate District) in October 2001 after serving for two years as a Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, sitting in juvenile (dependency), misdemeanor and felony trial courts.

While a member of the trial and appellate courts, Justice Perluss has chaired the Judicial Council's Civil and Small Claims Advisory Committee, served as co-chair of the Tribal Court-State Court Forum and participated on several Supreme Court Advisory Task Forces charged with developing new rules of professional conduct for attorneys. Justice Perluss has lectured to, and written for, other appellate and trial judges, practicing attorneys and law students on a wide range of legal topics. He has been a member of the American Law Institute since 1995.

Prior to his appointment to the bench, Justice Perluss actively practiced trial and appellate law for more than 24 years. He was a partner in the Los Angeles office of Morrison & Foerster, an international law firm, and Hufstedler & Kaus, a boutique litigation firm, emphasizing securities and other complex financial matters, as well as issues of constitutional law. He served as a Visiting Professor (Business Associations) at the UCLA School of Law and a Lecturer in Law (Law and the Family) at the USC Law Center. Prior to entering private practice, Justice Perluss was a law clerk to United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and to Judge Shirley M. Hufstedler of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Active in professional and community affairs throughout his legal career, Justice Perluss was Deputy General Counsel of the Independent ("Christopher") Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, President of the Barristers (Young Lawyers) of the Los Angeles County Bar Association and a member of the Board of Directors of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers, Public Counsel and the Los Angeles County Bar Foundation.

A native Californian, born in Sacramento on May 12, 1948, Justice Perluss graduated "with great distinction" from Stanford University in 1970, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He received his law degree magna cum laude in 1973 from Harvard Law School where he was Articles Editor for the Harvard Law Review.

Justice Perluss is married to Rabbi Emily H. Feigenson, Chaplain at the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, and has three high-school-age children.



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