Bill recommends removal of tribal court judge

Roy Tso Jr. was found guilty in 2015 of abusing his office.

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation

FARMINGTON — A new bill recommends that Roy Tso Jr. be removed as a probationary judge for Navajo Nation courts.

The recommendation is being made because Tso did not meet the requirements for permanent appointment because he was found guilty in 2015 of abusing his office.

Tso, a Shiprock resident, was appointed as a probationary judge by President Ben Shelly in November 2012 and was confirmed by the Navajo Nation Council in January 2013.

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He served in the Dilkon and Kayenta district courts in Arizona before being placed on administrative leave without pay in October 2013 by former Chief Justice Herb Yazzie.

On Aug. 15, 2014, Tso was charged with abuse of office in a criminal complaint filed in Shiprock District Court by the tribe's Office of the Prosecutor.

Prosecutors alleged that Tso tried to bribe a tribal prosecutor to dismiss burglary and theft charges against his sister and niece.

Attempts to contact Tso on Friday were not successful, but he denied any wrongdoing in a 2013 interview with The Daily Times.

In the 2013 interview, Tso said he did not bribe the prosecutor, and he was concerned about the well-being of his niece due to a medical condition.

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Tso pleaded not guilty in October 2014, but a judge found him guilty in December 2015.

He appealed the conviction to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court ruling in October 2016.

Under tribal law, judges are appointed for a probationary period of two years, then subject for review and may be recommended for permanent appointment.

The bill has been posted to the tribal council's website and has been assigned to the Law and Order Committee, which serves as the oversight committee for the Judicial Branch.

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In the bill, the committee determined that Tso did not "satisfactorily" complete his probationary term and will not be recommended for permanent appointment.

The bill states Tso also did not receive a satisfactory performance evaluation from acting Chief Justice Allen Sloan on March 2.

Tso will not be entitled to retirement benefits, and judges removed from office are not eligible for subsequent judicial appointment, according to tribal law.

Karen Francis, spokeswoman for the Judicial Branch, said in an email forfeiture of office is automatic upon conviction of abuse of office.

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However, tribal law mandates that the president has authority to remove a probationary judge upon recommendation by the Law and Order Committee, she wrote.

"The process of removal requires collaboration of all three branches of government to properly remove a judge in all fairness," Francis wrote.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.