Friday, June 26, 2009
The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska ("Tribe") filed a motion to intervene in an appeal of a child custody matter involving two children who are members of the Tribe. The lower court had denied the motion because it was not signed by a member of the Nebraska Bar. The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Tribe's right to intervene in the proceeding was granted by federal law (the Indian Child Welfare Act or "ICWA"). The lower court had refused to allow the Tribe's representative to participate notwithstanding the lack of objection from any party to the proceedings.
The court here holds that federal provisions preempt Nebraska's rules governing the unauthorized practice of law. The court notes that the non-lawyer representative designated by the Tribe was experienced in matters governed by the ICWA.
The court should be commended for not allowing unauthorized practice rules to silence the voice of a qualified non-lawyer representative. (Mike Frisch)