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After 18-month delay, Marshalls cabinet appoints new judges

MAJURO — After a year with no judges and land dispute cases piling up, a Traditional Rights Court in the Marshall Islands has been reactivated with new appointments by the government’s cabinet.

It took four tries by a Judicial Service Commission to get cabinet action since January 2009, as the court appointments were repeatedly sidetracked during leadership battles that played out in 2009 with multiple votes of no confidence in parliament and a change of government in September.

The most recent set of recommendations for judge appointments produced a result with the cabinet naming three judges to fill the vacancies this week.

The Traditional Rights Court is one of three courts in the Marshall Islands and plays a central role in deciding land and customary title disputes, which often involve large rental payments to landowners.

The Judicial Service Commission first advertised the judgeships in late 2008 in anticipation of the expiration of the three sitting judges contracts in May 2009.

But the cabinet rejected or deferred action on appointment recommendations for 18 months, making the TRC inactive for more than a year for the first time since Constitutional government was established in 1979. It also forced the Judicial Service Commission to publicly advertise the positions four times over the past 18 months.
The three-member panel represents the three classes of traditional title holders in the Marshall Islands. Current Clerk of the High Court Walter Elbon was named chief judge of the revamped TRC and is the Alab, or clan head, representative, Botlon Loeak, who was a TRC judge previously, was named as the Iroij, or chief, representative and is an associate judge, and Grace Leban, a long-time employee in community development and women¹s affairs at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is the rijerbal, or commoner, representative and an associate judge. Leban is the first woman to be appointed to the panel since the early 1990s.

High Court Chief Justice Carl Ingram, who chairs the Judicial Service Commission, said Thursday he sent out letters to the three confirming their appointments earlier this week. All of the appointees named by the cabinet had been on earlier JSC recommendation lists.

“I’m pleased we can move forward with the TRC and move ahead with land cases,” Ingram said.

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