Robert Medina had a good job working in corporate security when he set his sights on law school as a way to help his community at Zia Pueblo.
Last February, his goal was met when he became the tribe's first-ever tribal judge trained in the law. When he graduates in May, the position will become full time and he will continue in earnest his efforts to develop a separate judicial system for the pueblo.
"I'm excited and anxious to get started because I know that people with pending cases want a resolution, they want to move on," he says. "Some of these misdemeanor cases go back at least a year." Initially, he will hold court in the tribal council chambers, but would like to see a courtroom built eventually.
Another priority is to revise the pueblo's law and order code: "It is the same one the BIA gave us in the 1960s and is not based on tribal values," he says.
Medina was a tribal police officer in 2000, the only one with a home phone, when he decided to begin his journey toward law school. He earned two associate degrees at CNM, then a B.S. in criminology at UNM.
At the UNM School of Law, he has concentrated on economic development. "Even if we create the best judicial system for our community, we will still need money to operate it," he says.
"I have gained a good foundation in understanding codes and regulations, which will help me as I create a new tribal code," he says. "And I know my new laws will be challenged, so I need to be sure they withstand those challenges.
"The law school also has taught me where to look for answers and has helped me to see both sides of an argument," he says.
Medina will work closely with the tribal council in revamping the law and order code, making sure it better reflects the tribe's values.
"I have to live with the tribal members who will come before me, and I will use the judicial system to help with social problems, as well," he says. "I'm pleased that the dream I had is becoming a reality and I look forward to moving the pueblo forward."