Civil Law

Civil Law

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 court, and end-of-life planning, as well as assistance to Tribal employees.

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 and spouses of enrolled members.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

Our attorneys

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.

Shelli Buckner, Legal Services Attorney
Domestic Violence · Employment
Shelli started with the EBCI in December 2016 and her practice focuses on representing EBCI employees and survivors of domestic violence. Shelli grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. She attended the University of Miami School of Law after graduating from Washington & Lee University in 1998. In law school, Shelli was an Associate Editor of the Inter-American Law Review and received the Mofsky Scholarship for her public service efforts. After receiving her Juris Doctor in 2001, Shelli moved to Raleigh, North Carolina and began working for the Employment Security Commission (now Division of Employment Security) where she earned a Chairman’s Award for Excellence in Outstanding State Government Service. Shelli left state government in 2005 to start a law firm focused primarily on the protection of civil and employment rights for individuals throughout the state of North Carolina. In addition to her work on behalf of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Shelli serves as an attorney to AWAKE Children’s Advocacy Center in Jackson County and sits on the board of the Vocational Opportunities of Cherokee, Inc.

Tim Lewis, Legal Services Attorney
Wills · Elder Law · Self-Help Resources
Tim started with the EBCI in January 2017. Tim focuses his practice on working with Tribal elders and maintaining Self-Help resources for the community. He completed his undergraduate education at the University of Missouri in 2013 and received his Juris Doctor in 2016 from Wake Forest University School of Law. Tim was part of the prestigious Elder Law Clinic at Wake Forest University, where he assisted the elderly population with end-of-life planning, Medicaid navigation, elder taxes, elder abuse, and breaches in fiduciary duties. Prior to joining the EBCI, Tim worked for one of the largest family-based immigration firms in the Midwest and volunteered with Pisgah Legal Services in Asheville, NC.

Denise Hallauer-fox, Legal Services Attorney
Family Safety · Child Custody · Community Education
Denise started with the EBCI in February 2017. Her focus in the Legal Assistance Office is parents’ representation in Family Safety Court, Custody, and Community Education. She received her Juris Doctor in 2003 from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University in Macon, GA. Her undergraduate education was completed at the University of Maryland’s European campus; additionally, she completed an M.Ed. from Western Carolina University. Prior to attending law school, she worked at various local community colleges in administration and counseling. Following law school, Denise moved back to Clay County, NC and began a private practice consisting primarily of parents’ representation in DSS Court, special proceedings, and domestic and criminal matters.

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 associate’s degree in paralegal technology in 2015 from Southwestern Community College in Sylva, NC. In 2017, Hali became a North Carolina State Bar Certified Paralegal.

History of 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. The Program Manager began work on October 3, 2016. The Program’s three Legal Services Attorneys began work in December 2016, January 2017, and February 2017, and a Legal Services Paralegal came on board in May 2017.

Contact Us

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 2280
Cherokee, NC 28719

Physical Address:
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.

Additional Links:
LAO Facebook Page
The Cherokee Code
NC General Statutes