Bob A. Smith was the Chief Judge of the Cheyenne Arapaho Nation in Concho, Oklahoma. He received his law degree from Oklahoma City University School of Law in 1960. He worked for the Federal Aviation Administration and the federal government for 32 years before opening his own law firm. He was involved in establishing a drug court in McClain and Garvin counties. He served on the Oklahoma Indian Legal Services Board of Directors.
If a researcher wishes to use the information gathered in this interview for uses other than educational or scholarly uses, they may do so without further permission from the interview subject.
Below is a short selection of the interview with Bob A. Smith. You can listen to the full interview by visiting the Chickasaw Nation Law Library at Oklahoma City University School of Law.
Below is an excerpt from Mr. Smith's interview and a link to download the full transcript.
KEK: Now, do you have or does the judge, or do you as judge, you said you were not a member of the Cheyenne or Arapaho tribes, do the judges here have to be members of the tribes?
BAS: No. In fact, my court clerk is a Cheyenne Mississippi Choctaw, my deputy court clerk is an Arapaho. You see, it’s two tribes that are together, so it’s the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes. And a lot of employees like my probation officer are not Cheyenne-Arapaho, the other person that I have is not Cheyenne-Arapaho. But they’re qualified people, I think that’s the main thing. There’s Indian preference in hiring if someone is available but, I know when I was a special judge I had a case from out of state and the person was representing himself. And he filed a motion that I disqualify myself because he wanted a Cheyenne or an Arapaho judge. Somebody said, “I don’t know of a Cheyenne or an Arapaho judge.” So, I declined and I heard his case and ruled against him not because he filed that but based on what I had been presented. But he came up and shook my hand and said, “Judge, I had to try,” and I said, “I understand.” And I have seen him; he came in with someone else less than a month ago. So, it’s like a lot of other things, we keep running into each other.
KEK: Talk about how the tribal courts here sort of intersect with the state courts and with the federal courts.
BAS: We have our own code, tribal code. Basically, we follow that. Sometimes it is not covered in the code, rarely, and the code allows us to go to, to use state law, use federal law, or if neither of these help, then the judge is authorized to do what he thinks is appropriate. But we do, we follow a tribal code. And each of the tribes that have a court system may have their own code. So, in order to practice in that court you have to have access to their code. And most everything is covered in the code. Juveniles, guardianships, we started off yesterday morning with this adoption, and those are always pleasant. This girl being adopted will be 10 years old this March and while I’m not required to talk with her I felt that I should because she was an astute young girl. So, before we started I had my deputy court clerk come and get her and we just talked with her and asked her, “Did she understand what was going on?” And she’s been with these foster parents since she was a baby so they are the only parents she knows. She said, “Yes,” she understood and I said, “Do you want this to happen?” and she said, “Yes.” But I felt like I need to recognize her, get her input into this and she did. And then, I told her, I said, and she admitted that she was extremely nervous and I said, “Don’t be nervous because you’re going to stay with Patty.” And she just had a grin… so it’s not wise to have a child that’s being adopted in the courtroom and so I’m real conscious of this and sensitive to their needs, and to take care of them like children. I don’t want children in here when their parents are going through a divorce, they’re not going to be, you have to be conscious of this, I try to be. To hurt somebody is so easy and to have children here while parents are divorcing and something ugly comes up, they don’t need to know about this.