NAJA DEBUTS LEGAL HOTLINE

Kevin R. Kemper (Choctaw/Cherokee) expresses the significance of having the hotline services made available to NAJA members.

BY: LUCY SUPPAH, NATIVE VOICE

The debut of the NAJA legal hotline will extend educational and legal advice to journalists who are members of the Native American Journalists Association.

The hotline is designed to give NAJA members in the midst of legal or ethical quandaries an opportunity to consult legal professionals for advice at minimal or no cost.

Services will be given in confidence, and information about clients will not be released without complete consent from the clients themselves.  There will be limited demographic information that will be documented strictly to ensure that the quality standards are being met.

“The legal hotline is a way for NAJA members to have added value for their membership by getting information, mainly educational, about legal ethical issues about journalism in Indian country, “ said Kevin R. Kemper, the NAJA intake hotline liaison.

In his positions, Kemper will connect clients with the various professionals available through the hotline. Kemper, who has a doctorate in law but is not legally licensed as an attorney, will also provide educational information.

The launch of the hotline is the result of three years of preparation, said Rhonda LeValdo, NAJA president. Kemper had originally pitched the idea to the board during a meeting here in Phoenix.

The hotline is designed specifically to address issues regarding freedom of press, and censorship on Indian Country. Kemper said he has researched these issues extensively for upcoming book, “Lessons from the Jaguar, the Shark, and the Coyote: The Law and Ethics of Journalism in Indian Country.”  

“I think it’s really important because we see a lot of freedom of speech issues in Indian country,” LeValdo said. ”Because a lot of our tribes don’t have freedom of speech incorporated into their constitutions or their tribal administrations. So it’s helpful for them to get information.”   

The service has attracted consultants from law firms across the country, including at least one former NAJA journalist.

“Once I became a lawyer I thought it was great way to give back to the organization,” said Matthew E. Kelley. “Even though I was not a journalist anymore.” 

Kelley is an attorney at the Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz firm located in Washington D.C. He was involved with NAJA as a member, a reporter and representative to the UNITY organization. Kelley worked for the Associated Press in Phoenix and USA Today.

The Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz firm is the primary consulting firm behind the hotline.

Although it is a legal hotline, the goal for any call would be to resolve issues outside the courtroom whenever possible.

Initially, the service is free to NAJA members. This is for basic consultations. However, situations that require more time and resources will incur a fee. The program is set up so that the hotline will be limited to people and organizations that do not yet have an attorney.

A majority of the funding for the time and work that goes into the hotline is a combination of volunteer, and job-related service hours. Kemper said he would provide this as a part of his commitment to service required of tenure-seeking faculty at University of Arizona, “which I like to do anyway,” he said. "Because of my background and love for the Choctaw and Cherokee peoples, I choose to serve indigenous peoples as much as possible."

This is not NAJA’s first attempt at offering legal advice for its members. The organization ran a smaller-scaled version of this program in the mid-1990s.

 “The services that I understood were just advisement services from our contact people who were lawyers,” said Eugene Tapahe, who sat on the board at the time. “If there was an issue that came up as far as, freedom of our rights or anything else that we had questions on as far as regulations of press, we could call them.”

The previous program was available sporadically, Tapahe said. “If we wanted to have them represent us, they would be available but most of the time it was by pay.”

Members may access the services both through a phone line: (405) 872-6107, and email: legalhotline@naja.com. Which may be contacted at anytime. Responses should come within 48 hours.

“I had always wanted myself to be involved in finding the solutions to these problems,” Kemper said. “I love journalism. I love tribal peoples. It’s been my life; it’s been my background.”