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Cherokee Tribal Court & Indian Law

cityIndian Law:

Over 200 years a unique system of laws has developed covering activities in Indian Country. Across the United States, there are over 55 million acres of "Indian country." Within the tribal lands a complex set of state, federal and tribal laws govern all activities. This means that there are different laws, different procedures, and even different outcomes when activities occur on the reservation. If you are dealing with Indian Law issues, it is critical to understand this complex system.

James W. Kilbourne, Jr, served as the first chief prosecutor for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for six years prior to returning to private practice. He has been recognized nationally for his work on Indian criminal law and jurisdiction.

Eastern Cherokee Law

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians controls a territory of nearly 57,000 acres across Western North Carolina. While the Cherokees created a court system in the 1820's, the modern Cherokee Court was founded in 1980. Tribal Council passes ordinances, which are enforced by the Principal Chief and the employees of the tribal departments. The role of the Cherokee Court is to settle civil disputes and judge criminal actions. While much of the law and procedures is similar, there are significant differences, including statutes of limitation. The Dungan Law Firm has the knowledge and experience to protect your rights.

Criminal Law

Within Indian country, even the smallest criminal offense can land certain defendants in Federal Court. At the same time, the State of North Carolina and the Tribe each have areas of exclusive jurisdiction. There are significant differences in the law and punishments in each of these jurisdictions. This can lead to very different outcomes. For example, a drug charge, which might lead to probation in federal or state court could lead to over a year in jail in Cherokee Court.

It is critical that your attorney understand these critical questions of law and jurisdiction. As tribal prosecutor, James W. Kilbourne, Jr. has lectured nationally on criminal jurisdiction and his "Kilbourne Chart" of jurisdiction is being used at several law schools to explain these complex issue.


The Cherokee Court is neither state nor federal court. As prosecutor, James W. Kilbourne, Jr., handled hundreds of cases in Tribal Court. It has its own laws and procedures. The Dungan Law Firm can handle all forms of litigation in the Tribal court from multi-million dollar commercial disputes to collecting outside judgments.

Business/Commercial Law

Whether you are contracting with the Casino or opening a business to serve the booming Cherokee market, it is critical that you understand the requirements of Cherokee law. Wal-Mart, Food Lion, and many others have begun opening stores to serve this growing tourist destination. The Business Committee of Tribal Council, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and numerous tribal governmental agencies are all involved in the regulation of commercial activities in Cherokee. Failure to follow the unique laws can lead to expensive liability. The Dungan Law Firm can provide the legal expertise to help your business succeed in Cherokee.

Personal Injury

Our firm represents persons injured by others. These cases range from automobile, truck and motorcycle wrecks to malpractice by health professionals. When those injuries occur in Cherokee, it creates an entirely different winkle. Depending upon the situation, these cases might be tried in Federal Court, State Court, or Tribal Court. You may have issues with sovereign immunity or with different standards of fault. The Dungan Law Firm has the knowledge and experience to protect your rights.


With the recent boom in the Cherokee economy, there has been an astronomical increase in construction on the Cherokee Lands. However, Cherokee law is not a carbon copy of North Carolina law. As a contractor or subcontractor on a Cherokee project it is important that you understand your rights before you step foot on the job. If you have a dispute over payment or construction defects, it is important that you find a knowledgeable attorney to represents you. The Dungan Law Firm has a unique fountain of experience in construction disputes AND Indian Law. We can help you in any phase of the process: reviewing contracts, negotiations, arbitration or filing suit.

National Indian Law

While each local situation is unique, Indian law is national law. Dungan, Kilbourne & Stahl does not confine their practice to solely local issues. With a national network of contacts and years of experience our lawyers can provide advice on national legal issues and obtain local council to litigate Indian law issues across the country.

Consulting-Statutory Drafting

Unlike many national "Indian-Law only" firms, Dungan, Kilbourne & Stahlregularly handles a wide variety of cases in numerous legal areas, including, construction, personal injury, criminal law, real property, employment, worker's comp, business and commercial, estate planning, trademark and copyright, zoning, and development. Therefore, we have the knowledge advise Tribes and assist in the drafting of statutory changes.

Four of our areas of particular expertise are property restrictions, court operations, criminal law , and environmental. Robert Dungan was one of the primary authors of the North Carolina Community Associations Act and has more than 25 years of experience in development construction and property law. James W. Kilbourne, Jr., was the first Tribal Prosecutor for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and served for many years as one of the primary proponents of that court's modernization efforts. He also drafted scores of criminal statutes.


James W. Kilbourne
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