Mitchell Wright is a program attorney at the National Judicial College and the chief tribal judge for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. At the college, he teaches classes on judicial writing, how to avoid stereotyping and judicial ethics. A Reno native, he graduated from Reno High School, then attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the University of Iowa School of Law. He is married and has two children.
What does a program attorney do?
My primary responsibility is to oversee the course curriculum for all the courses that are given in the United States for administrative law judges and for tribal court judges. We’re the only center in the country that teaches classes in those areas.
Is it challenging to be the only center to teach in those areas?
Well, there’s not a lot of competition. It means that we occupy an important position, not just in the United States, but in the world. People come from all over the world to train here. Today, we have a visitor from Thailand, and we’ve also had people visit from Chile, Nicaragua, Colombia and other places where it’s very hard to be a judge.
How do you relate your job at the Judicial Center to your work as a tribal judge?
Being a tribal judge gives me the opportunity to put the skills that I teach at the center into practice.
Have you tried any interesting cases?
I have a case that’s going up before the U.S. Supreme Court right now called Nevada vs. Hicks. In that case, the tribal court issued a search warrant for areas around Mr. Hicks’ home, but the state game warden went into the house and shattered the search warrant.
How’s the case going?
We’ve won this case at the Intertribal Court of Appeals, at Federal District Court and at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Now it’s in front of the Supreme Court. I’m not arguing it, because it’s hard to be a judge and an attorney. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to argue it.
Are there any other cases that stand out in your mind?
I think anything to do with children. I grew up in a household that was like Leave it to Beaver, so I didn’t think there was anything strange about that show.
As a tribal judge, what types of cases do you deal with?
Tribal Court is a court of general jurisdiction, so I handle everything—criminal, civil, juvenile and drug court cases. I can give unlimited civil damages and up to one year in jail for each criminal count against a person.
What’s your favorite class to teach?
Judicial writing. I think everybody could be a better writer. I know I certainly could. I learn more teaching that class than my students learn taking it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Well, I’m off to Alaska soon, where I’m hoping that I’ll be able to run the first 12 miles of the Iditarod dog sled race—at least, if my friend lets me.