Luke Barteaux is in a unique position in his legal career. The Fry & Elder attorney also is a Cherokee Nation district judge.
He now gets to look at the practice of law from both perspectives. As an attorney, he represents clients on issues involving guardianship, child custody, juvenile and some criminal cases.
He said he is excited about the opportunity to blend the legal experiences, but also humbled because both roles involve helping people.
“I think that no matter what type of case is presented, whether judge or private practice attorney, you have someone coming before you with different life experiences, different stories, and they put it on the table before you,” he said.
Barteaux was nominated for the Cherokee position by Chief Bill John Baker. He was interviewed by the Tribal Council and confirmed by the Cherokee Council on May 15, and Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Chief John C. Garrett administered the oath of office the same day.
He will fill out the remaining two-year term of the late Judge Bart Fite, who died in April. Then it will be up to the tribe whether to appoint him to a four-year term.
Serving the Cherokee Nation was not a new experience for Barteaux. He previously had been appointed to the Cherokee Phoenix editorial board in 2014.
“I took Indian Law classes when I attended the University of Tulsa College of Law,” he said.
There are a few extra statutes from the federal government and the child welfare act. The tribe also has an interest in cases transferred from the state of Oklahoma to tribal jurisdiction, especially those involving adoptions and guardianships.
Barteaux has two standard dockets set on the first and second Fridays of each month and also schedules special dockets if there is a longer hearing or a trial is needed.
Cherokee Nation District Judge Crystal Jackson, who maintains a private practice in Tahlequah, had been covering the open docket until a new judge could be appointed. Barteaux observed the court procedures during his appointment process and got tips from Jackson.
The toughest cases involve children, Barteaux said. Every case is different, he noted, and some cases the court must determine if the parents are capable of caring for children.
Seeing the cases from a judicial point of view helps keep Barteaux grounded as he represents clients. On the attorney side, he is able to see cases as a judge deals with different trial aspects and courtroom procedures.
Barteaux’s Fry & Elder colleagues are proud about his additional role, but they also are happy he is not leaving the firm where he has practiced as a lawyer since 2012 and as an intern since July 2011.
Barteaux sought the advice of Tulsa district judges he practiced before as he considered the judicial role.
“The judges told me that it is something I had to do, that I would like it,” he said. “They were happy for me, and I was congratulated by judges who know about it [the appointment].
“Many attorneys have it in the back of their head to possibly become a judge one day. I never really thought it would come to fruition, at least not this early in my legal career.”