Retired tribal judge from Encinitas to lead North Dakota ethics commission

Tony Brandenburg to serve as chairman for the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Indian Nation


After a lifetime of work in the courts of Southern California, Anthony “Tony” Brandenburg, retired chief judge of the Intertribal Court of Southern California and retired Superior Court commissioner, was called upon once again to serve.

Longtime Encinitas resident "Tony" Brandenburg,
Longtime Encinitas resident Tony Brandenburg was selected to serve as chairman of the Ethics Commission for the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Indian Nation in North Dakota.

Brandenburg, a longtime Encinitas resident, was selected as chairman of the Ethics Commission for the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Indian Nation on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in central North Dakota and headquartered near New Town.

The tribe includes roughly 17,000 enrolled members, governed by a democratic representative government and has a jurisdiction covering more than 988,000 acres, including land on the Bakken Oil Field. The tribe’s primary sources of income are oil and gas leases and it supplies 25 percent of the revenue for North Dakota’s General Fund, Brandenburg said.

The Mandan tribal council formed the ethics commission about a year ago and selected Brandenburg as a member. He was named its chairman last month.

“Our job is to investigate any alleged ethics violations by tribal employees or tribal government officials,” Brandenburg said. “With over 1,100 employees, this is an important function.”

The commission’s duties include investigating citizens complaints on any alleged violations of the professional standards of conduct set by the tribe.

“Based on our findings, we hold a hearing and from that make recommendations to the Tribal Council as to the appropriate action we feel is necessary to resolve the situation,” Brandenburg said, adding, “My goal on the Ethics Commission is simply to keep everyone honest.”

Brandenburg served as chief judge of the Intertribal Court of Southern California for a little over 10 years before he retired from that position in 2016. While he was chief judge, the Intertribal Court based in Valley Center settled cases for 11 local tribes, including San Pasqual, Rincon, Pala , La Jolla, Pauma, Barona, Sycuan and Los Coyotes, and provided court services on a contract basis to other tribes throughout California.

During his tenure as chief judge, a wide range of cases were brought before Brandenburg, from family law to multi-million-dollar civil actions and wrongful death cases. He traveled to local Indian reservations to hear cases.

“A tribe is a family,” Brandenburg said when he was installed as chief judge. “As with any family, there are times when they have their differences. As sovereign tribes and families, we must come together and work together.”
“There is no greater expression of tribal sovereignty than an intertribal system of justice.”

As chief judge, Brandenburg was asked to testify before the U.S. Senate as the only tribal judge in the country regarding the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010.

“This was an important piece of federal legislation expanding the authority of tribal courts and tribal law enforcement in the United States,” Brandenburg said.

In 2002, he was given an honorary doctorate by Connecticut State University for his work on tribal issues. He received a number of honors for his judicial efforts, including the Restorative Justice Award from the Amicus Project and The Spirit of Luiseno Award from the Rincon Band of Mission Indians. In 2008, he received the California Community College alumni of the year award.

For 17 years, Brandenburg served on the bench as a judicial officer in the San Diego County Municipal and Superior Courts at the Vista courthouse, where he handled both civil and criminal proceedings, until he retired from his post as Superior Court Commissioner in 2004. While serving as Commissioner, Brandenburg was elected president of the San Diego County Judges Association and president of the California Court Commissioner‘s Association.

For seven years in the 1980s, Brandenburg served on the Encinitas Union School District board of trustees. He has been a member of the Encinitas Rotary for 33 years.

Brandenburg, who served in the Marine Corps, has taught law and ethics at the university level for several decades and has trained more than 200 pro tem judges. As a faculty member at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada, he has led programs on Native American Tribal issues and has presented programs on topics such as Indian Law, diversity training, tribal community relations, and the legal and social issues facing Native Americans today, with the goal of improving the quality of life on reservations.

Brandenburg currently provides tribal court training programs to tribes on a contract basis through his tribal consulting firm, called “two feathers.”

“It was both a surprise and an honor to be selected to lead the Ethics Commission and I’m proud of the job our commission is doing.”

— Linda McIntosh is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune