The Legal Assistance Office is a Tribal program of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, under the Office of the Attorney General.
Mission: Empower and strengthen Cherokee families and individuals by providing meaningful access to the civil justice system
Program description: The Legal Assistance Office (LAO) expands access to justice for the Cherokee community through direct legal representation, community outreach, and advocacy. LAO attorneys provide representation and/or advice in the areas of domestic violence, child custody, family safety program, end-of-life planning, EBCI employees, and adult guardianship.
What We Do
Types of Cases Handled by the EBCI Legal Assistance Office
- End-of-Life Planning Documents:We draft simple wills, powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, and advance directives for enrolled members, spouses of enrolled members, first descendants, and tribal employees.
- Family Safety Parent Representation: We accept court-appointed cases to represent parents and caregivers whose children are involved with the EBCI Family Safety Program.
- Domestic Violence: We accept referrals from the EBCI’s Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Program to represent their clients in domestic violence-related civil law cases (including obtaining domestic violence protective orders; child custody; and landlord/tenant matters).
- EBCI Employees: We provide limited advice and counsel to EBCI employees who have been subject to disciplinary action or termination.
- Child Custody: We represent qualified Tribal members in child custody actions in the Cherokee Court. A Tribal member qualifies for representation in child custody matters if he or she meets all of the following criteria:
- (1)The individual must be an enrolled member;
- (2)The Cherokee Court must have jurisdiction of the case;
- (3)The individual must be seeking an initial custody order;
- (4)The individual must be “indigent” as defined in our policies; and
- (5)The individual must be a parent or other caregiver with standing to sue for custody.
- Adult Guardianship: We accept referrals from the EBCI Family Safety Program to represent protected individuals in need of a guardian.
- Community Education, Self-Help Resources, and Brief Advice: In addition to direct representation, our staff can provide community education seminars, develop self-help resources, and give brief advice about a variety of other legal matters if time allows.
The authority of the EBCI Legal Assistance Office to represent Tribal members on these matters is expressed in, and limited by, Cherokee Code Sec. 114A-2.
Bonnie Claxton, Program Manager
Bonnie started with the EBCI in October 2016. Bonnie grew up in Sylva, NC and is an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation. She earned her Juris Doctor in 2013 from William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline) after graduating from the University of Georgia in 2007. In law school, Bonnie was President of the school’s Native American Law Students Association and Chair of the Minnesota Justice Foundation, the school’s public interest law group. After law school, Bonnie moved back home and worked in private practice at Coward, Hicks, & Siler in Sylva before becoming a staff attorney at Legal Aid of North Carolina. While at Legal Aid, Bonnie focused on representing members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and increasing access to the civil justice system for the Cherokee community.
Jamie Arnold, Legal Services Attorney
Jamie started with the EBCI in December of 2018. His focus is Domestic Violence and survivor advocacy, Divorce, Child Custody, and Family Safety. Jamie received a B.S. in Biology from the University of North Alabama, a Juris Doctorate in law from the Appalachian School of Law. He came to the Legal Assistance Office after a career in private practice, where he primarily practiced domestic and civil law. Jamie is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and Army. He is an avid outdoorsman and spends most of his free time outside adventuring with his family and dogs.
Stephanie Lepre, Legal Services Attorney
Stephanie started with the EBCI in January 2019. Her focus in the Legal Assistance Office is parents’ representation in Family Safety Court, Custody, and Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation. Before coming to work for the Tribe, Stephanie spent nine years practicing law in Cherokee County, NC. She received her Juris Doctor and M.A. in Psychology in 2010 from Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, IN. Her undergraduate education was completed Sage College in Albany, NY. Stephanie’s private practice consisted primarily of parents’ representation in DSS Court, criminal defense, and custody.
Hali Jenkins, Legal Services Paralegal
Hali began work with the EBCI Legal Assistance Office in May 2017. She is an enrolled member of the EBCI and resides on the Qualla Boundary in the Birdtown Community. She received her A.A.S. in Paralegal Technology in 2015 from Southwestern Community College in Sylva, NC. In 2017, Hali became a North Carolina State Bar Certified Paralegal. Hali is expected to graduate from Western Carolina University in 2021 with a B.S. in Criminal Justice.
Heather Maney, Administrative Assistant
Heather began working for the Legal Assistance Office in October 2018. She resides in Sylva, NC. Heather attended Southwestern Community College where she received her A.A.S. in Human Services Technology-Substance Abuse in 2011 and a certificate in Paralegal Technology in 2020. Heather has many years of experience in the legal field. She has held positions at Swain County DSS, Tribal Child Support and the Cherokee Clerk’s Office.
History of the LAO:
The LAO was created by Ordinance No. 118 (2016), which was ratified by Tribal Council on June 2, 2016 and approved by the Principal Chief on June 21, 2016. The program was established to provide legal services to individual Tribal members who cannot otherwise afford those services.
P.O. Box 2280
Cherokee, NC 28719
Ginger Lynn Welch Complex
810 Acquoni Road
Cherokee, NC 28719
How to find us:
Coming in the front door of GLW, you will see the Qualla Library directly in front of you. Turn left and then right down the long hallway. Before the glass door at the end of the hallway, our window is on your right.