By Jordan Miszlay

Judge Kari Covers Up of the Crow Tribe (Apsaalooke Nation) has been attending courses at the NJC since 2014. Most recently, she has received a Tribal Judicial Skills Certificate, which a judge earns when completing the Judicial Development program.

The certification is a hallmark of study that complements existing degrees. Judges who earn Certificates in Judicial Development achieve a higher level of judicial expertise, skill and knowledge. In order to earn a Tribal Judicial Skills Certificate, a judge must complete eight in-person courses.

Judge Covers Up took an interesting path to reach the judicial field. She originally graduated from Montana State University with a degree in Liberal Studies. And also received her Masters of Social Work from Walla Walla College.

Like most recent college graduates, Judge Covers Up had difficulty finding a job in her preferred field. A colleague of hers connected her with the Department of Human and Health Services in Montana where she was hired for a position in social work. This is when she got her first taste of the judicial system.

“I had to learn about various parts of the judicial system for my social work,” she explained.

Judge Covers Up returned to the Crow Tribe when a social work job opening became available for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. When she began this job, Judge Covers Up got to observe what the judicial system was like at the Crow Tribe Courts. She realized that the current system could be improved greatly.

“I saw many areas where the courts could be improved and I wanted to provide a better court system for the families involved and the people,” said Judge Covers Up.

Judge Covers Up then decided to run for office, though she was not without support. Her grandfather was previously a judge for the Crow Tribe. Those close to Judge Covers Up told her it was up to her to continue her grandfather’s good work, and that she would make a wonderful judge. Ironically, she not only serves the same court, but she also occupies her grandfather’s previous chambers.

Being new to the judicial field, presiding Chief Judge Leroy Not Afraid of the Crow Tribe told Judge Covers Up about the National Judicial College and recommended that she attend some courses.

In 2014, she applied for scholarships and began taking courses at the NJC.

“Judge Covers Up’s story is so remarkable because she took full advantage of the scholarships offered to her and made great sacrifices to complete this program,” said Ramon Acosta, a Program Attorney for the Tribal Judicial Center.

Judge Covers Up completed the program in just two years, which was an accomplishment all on its own. She had to travel to Reno to attend each course and sacrifice time that would have otherwise been spent with family to complete the program.

Judge Covers Up enthusiastically did all of this because she knew that attending courses at the NJC would allow her to improve
herself and the court system at Crow Agency.

Of all of her experiences at the college, Judge Covers Up benefited the most from meeting with other tribal judges and using the mock courtroom at the NJC.

“I have just learned so much (at the college),” Said Judge Covers Up. “One thing that really helped me was when we had mock trials in the courtroom, that was the best experience because the instructors gave us different types of scenarios to play out, that helped me get over my nervousness of being on the bench as a new judge. After learning new skills at the judicial college, I knew that they were valuable and could be applied in my court”.

In addition to improving her judicial skills, she explained that earning the certification has helped her in other ways. “I believe that earning the certificate was a milestone. it helped me step up to a higher level and shows others that I am dedicated to learning as much as I can and that I am qualified, and serious about judgeship,” she said.