The Judiciary’s Courts and Personnel

The Marshall Islands Constitution vests the country’s judicial power in an independent judiciary. The Marshall Islands judiciary (“Judiciary”) includes a supreme court, high court, traditional rights court, district court, and community courts as well as a judicial service commission and court staff. The Judiciary officially commenced operation on March 3, 1982, assuming judicial functions in the Marshall Islands that had been discharged by TTPI courts.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is a superior court of record having appellate jurisdiction with final authority to adjudicate all cases and controversies properly brought before it. The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and two associate justices. To date, all supreme court judges have been law-trained attorneys and most have been experienced judges. The current chief justice, Daniel N. Cadra, is a United States expatriate appointed to a 10-year term in September 2013. Any Marshallese citizen appointed to the Supreme Court would be appointed to serve until age 72. Generally, associate justices have been pro tem judges from other jurisdictions, e.g., the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the United States Federal District Court in Hawaii, the Republic of Palau, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Canada.

An appeal lies to the Supreme Court (i) as of right from a final decision of the High Court in the exercise of its original jurisdiction; (ii) as of right from a final decision of the High Court in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction, but only if the case involves a substantial question of law as to the interpretation or effect of the Constitution; and (iii) at the discretion of the Supreme Court from any final decision of any court. Also, the High Court may remove to the Supreme Court questions arising as to the interpretation or effect of the Constitution.

Back to top

 

High Court

The High Court is a superior court of record having general jurisdiction over controversies of law and fact in the Marshall Islands. The High Court has original jurisdiction over all cases properly filed with it, appellate jurisdiction over cases originally filed in subordinate courts, and, unless otherwise provided by law, jurisdiction to review the legality of any final decision of a government agency.

The High Court currently consists of a chief justice and one associate justice: Chief Justice Carl B. Ingram; and Associate Justice Colin R. Winchester. The current High Court justices are law-trained attorneys, as have been all prior High Court judges, and they attend at least one professional development seminar or workshop each year. Chief Justice Ingram was re-appointed to a ten-year term commencing in October 2013. Associate Justice Winchester was appointed to a renewable two-year term commencing in November 2016. Any Marshallese citizen appointed to the High Court would be appointed to serve until age 72.

Back to top

 

Traditional Rights Court

The Traditional Rights Court (“TRC”) is a special-jurisdiction court of record consisting of three or more judges appointed for terms of four to ten years and selected to include a fair representation of all classes of land rights: Iroijlaplap (high chief); where applicable, Iroijedrik (lower chief); Alap (head of commoner/worker clan); and Dri Jerbal (commoner/worker).

The current TRC includes Chief Judge Walter K. Elbon (alap member appointed in June 2010 for a 10-year term), Associate Judge Nixon David (iroij member appointed in April 2013 for a 4-year term), and Associate Judge Grace L. Leban (dri jerbal member appointed in June 2010 for a 10-year term). All are lay judges who receive specialized training. One of the three judges, Judge Leban, is a woman, the first woman to be appointed as a full-time TRC judge. The Judiciary is committed to increasing the number of women judges.

The jurisdiction of the TRC is limited to questions relating to titles to land rights or other legal interests depending wholly or partly on customary law and traditional practices. The jurisdiction of the TRC may be invoked as of right upon application by a party to a pending High Court proceeding, provided the High Court judge certifies that a substantial question has arisen within the jurisdiction of the TRC.

Customary law questions certified by the High Court are decided by the TRC panel and reported back to the High Court. Upon request by the TRC’s presiding judge, a party, or the referring High Court judge, the Chief Justice of the High Court can appoint a High Court or District Court judge to sit with the TRC to make procedural and evidentiary rulings. In such joint-hearing cases, the High Court or District Court judge does not participate with the TRC in deliberations on its opinion, but may in the presence of the parties or their counsel answer questions of law or procedure posed by the TRC. The TRC’s jurisdiction also includes the rendering of an opinion on whether compensation for the taking of land rights in eminent domain proceedings is just.

The Constitution states that the High Court is to give decisions of the TRC substantial weight, but TRC decisions are not binding unless the High Court concludes that justice so requires. The Supreme Court has held the High Court is to review and adopt the TRC’s findings unless the findings are clearly erroneous or contrary to law.

Back to top

 

District Court

The District Court is a limited-jurisdiction court of record. It consists of a presiding judge and two associate judges appointed for 10-year terms: Presiding Judge Milton Zackios; Associate Judge Ablos Tarry Paul; and Associate Judge Davidson Tregar Jajo. Their terms expire in 2018, 2025, 2016 respectively.

The current District Court judges are lay judges who receive specialized training. The District Court has original jurisdiction concurrent with the High Court (i) in civil cases where the amount claimed or the value of the property involved does not exceed $10,000 (excluding matters within the exclusive jurisdiction of the High Court by Constitution or statute, land title cases, and admiralty and maritime matters) and (ii) in criminal cases involving offenses for which the maximum penalty does not exceed a fine of $4,000 or imprisonment for a term of less than three years, or both. The District Court also has appellate jurisdiction to review any decision of a Community Court.

Back to top

 

Community Courts

A Community Court is a limited-jurisdiction court of record for a local government area, of which there are 24. Each Community Court consists of a presiding judge and such number of associate judges, if any, as the Judicial Service Commission may appoint. Appointments are made for terms of up to 6 years, but not to exceed age 72. Community Court judges are lay judges with limited training. A Community Court has original jurisdiction concurrent with the High Court and the District Court within its local government area (i) in all civil cases where the amount claimed or the value of the property involved does not exceed $1,000 (excluding matters within the exclusive jurisdiction of the High Court by Constitution or statute, land title cases, and admiralty and maritime matters) and (ii) in all criminal cases involving offenses for which the maximum penalty does not exceed a fine of $400 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both.

Below is a list of the community court judges as of March 22, 2017.

  • Ailinglaplap Community Court Presiding Judge Canover Katol (5/4/14-5/3/18)
  • Ailinglaplap Community Court Associate Judge Clandon Katjang (5/4/14-5/3/18)
  • Ailinglaplap Community Court Associate Judge Mannu Rakin (7/13/14-7/12/18)
  • Ailuk Community Court Presiding Judge Tilly Menua (2/9/14-2/8/18)
  • Arno Community Court Presiding Judge (vacant)
  • Arno Community Court Associate Judge (vacant)
  • Arno Community Court Associate Judge Batle Latdrik (2/9/14-2/8/18)
  • Aur Community Court Presiding Judge Benty Jikrok (3/3/17-3/2/23)
  • Bikini and Kili Community Court Presiding Judge Kener Lewis (4/18/16-4/17/22)
  • Ebon Community Court Presiding Judge (vacant)
  • Enewetak and Ujelang Community Court Presiding Judge (vacant)
  • Jabat Community Court Presiding Judge Tari Jamodre (8/7/16-8/6/22)
  • Jaluit Community Court Presiding Judge Hertina Mejjena (7/13/14-7/12/18)
  • Jaluit Community Court Associate Judge Junior Helmi Morris (1/22/17-1/21/23)
  • Lae Community Court Presiding Judge (vacant)
  • Lib Community Court Presiding Judge (vacant)
  • Likiep Community Court Presiding Judge Riton Erakdrik (7/25/16-7/24/22)
  • Maloelap Community Court Presiding Judge (vacant)
  • Maloelap Community Court Associate Judge (vacant)
  • Mejit Community Court Presiding Judge Rebecca John (1/25/15-1/24/21)
  • Mili Community Court Presiding Judge Jiton John (1/22/17-1/21/23)
  • Namdrik Community Court Presiding Judge Reio Lolin (7/13/14-7/12/18)
  • Namu Community Court Presiding Judge (vacant)
  • Rongelap Community Court Presiding Judge (vacant)
  • Ujae Community Court Presiding Judge Area Jibbwa (7/13/14-7/12/18)
  • Utrik Community Court Presiding Judge Presiding Judge Jackel Moore (11/17/13-11/16/17)
  • Wotho Community Court Presiding Judge Carlmai Antibas (9/23/16-9/22/22)
  • Wotje Community Court Presiding Judge Lincoln Lakjohn (3/18/16-3/17/22))
  • Wotje Community Court Associate Judge Mejwadrik Elbon (8/9/15-8/8/21)
  • Unallocated (vacant)

Back to top

 

Court Staff

The judiciary’s staff includes Chief Clerk of the Courts, Ingrid K. Kabua, a deputy chief clerk, six assistant clerks, three bailiffs (seconded from the National Police) and one maintenance worker. One of the clerks is stationed permanently in Ebeye. The clerks also serve as translators from Marshallese to English and English to Marshallese. The Attorney-General has a Chinese translator on staff, made available by the Republic of China (Taiwan) Embassy.

The assistant clerks, bailiffs, and maintenance worker are as follows:

  • Deputy Chief Clerk of the Courts Travis Joe
  • Assistant Clerk of the Courts Armen Bolkeim (Ebeye)
  • Assistant Clerk of the Courts Hainrick Moore
  • Assistant Clerk of the Court Tanya Lomae
  • Assistant Clerk of the Court Ronna Helkena
  • Assistant Clerk of the Court Item Note
  • Bailiff Junior Borran, Lieutenant
  • Bailiff Jukku Benjamin, Sergeant
  • Bailiff Moses Lautey, Officer I
  • Maintenance James Milne

Back to top

 

The Judicial Service Commission

Along with the courts, the Constitution provides for a Judicial Service Commission (“JSC”), which consists of the Chief Justice of the High Court, as chair, the Attorney-General, and a private citizen selected by the Cabinet. The JSC nominates to Cabinet candidates for appointment to the Supreme Court, High Court, TRC, and the Nuclear Claims Tribunal (“NCT”), and the JSC appoints judges to the District Court and the Community Courts. In appointing Community Court judges, the JSC takes into consideration the wishes of the local communities as expressed through their local government councils. The JSC also may make recommendations to the Nitijela regarding the qualifications of judges. In the exercise of its functions and powers, the JSC shall not receive any direction from the Cabinet or from any other authority or person, but shall act independently. The JSC may make rules for regulating its procedures and generally for the better performance of its functions.

Back to top

 

Facilities

The courthouses on Majuro and Ebeye are equipped with computers, printers, faxes, and photocopiers and have Internet access (@ 3.0 mps in Majuro and 1.5 mps in Ebeye). The courts permit the filing and service of documents via fax and email attachment. The computers in Majuro are linked together in a network, and the Majuro Courthouse has two scanners with OSC software permitting the courts to scan documents and send them almost anywhere in the world. Over the past three years, the Judiciary has replaced all of its older computers. However, software updates remain a critical need and from time-to-time computers crash and must be replaced.

The Judiciary has a small, but functional, law library which includes hard copies of the following: United States Supreme Court cases through 2006; American Law Reports First, Second, Third, Fourth, part of Fifth, and Federal; LaFave on Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, and Search and Seizure; Wharton on Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure; American Jurisprudence 2nd; Wright and Miller on Federal Practice and Procedure; Moore’s Federal Practice; and others. Also, the Judiciary has up to date online access to United States case law and secondary sources through a WestLaw Internet subscription.

Back to top

 

Organizational Chart for the RMI Judiciary

Organizational Chart for the RMI Judiciary

Back to top

 

References: — Official Documents of RMI Judiciary Courts

Links: