Tulalip Tribes Departments header image

Tulalip Office of Civil Legal Aid

Mission Statement

The Tulalip Office of Civil Legal Aid (TOCLA) provides legal assistance to low-income tribal members with general civil legal issues, including those that affect safety, family integrity, health, access to public benefits, and education. TOCLA provides culturally sensitive, competent legal representation in a holistic manner by collaborating with other Tribal legal and social services to assist clients in identifying legal and non-legal needs, and address barriers in accessing services. In the expansion of civil legal aid through TOCLA, Tribal members gain greater access to the Tulalip judicial system.

Program Profile

The Tulalip Office of Civil Legal Aid (TOCLA) provides free legal assistance to low income tribal members under the jurisdiction of the Tulalip Tribal Court. The general TOCLA attorney can help with a large number of civil legal issues, from family law cases, such as guardianships and dissolutions, to public benefits cases, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) appeals.

TOCLA’s Tribal Parent Advocacy Project (TPAP) represents parents and/or children involved in dependency cases (Youth in Need of Care, or beda?chelh) in the Tulalip Tribal Court.

The Victim Legal Advocacy Project (VLAP), is a grant-funded collaboration between TOCLA and the Tulalip Tribes’ Legacy of Healing (LOH) program, provides holistic legal representation to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in cases related to their victimization.

TOCLA’s Child Advocacy Project (TCAP) is a grant-funded program that provides holistic, developmentally appropriate, and culturally competent advocacy to children and youth who are involved in dependency (Youth in Need of Care, or beda?chelh) cases at the Tulalip Tribal Court. Children under twelve years of age are generally represented under an attorney Guardian ad Litem model, while children over twelve years of age are generally represented according to their stated interests.

Service Area/Jurisdiction

TOCLA serves Tulalip tribal members, parents of Tulalip tribal children, and Native individuals living within the Tulalip community. Special exceptions may be made to allow for representation of non-Native individuals, so long as such exceptions are in accordance with TOCLA policy. TOCLA operates under applicable Tulalip tribal law and court rules and federal and state law specific to reservation residents. Legal representation by TOCLA occurs under the jurisdiction of the Tulalip Tribal Court. VLAP may also provide legal representation for eligible civil legal actions in State court.

TOCLA Programs and Eligibility

Tulalip Office of Civil Legal Aid (TOCLA): TOCLA has one general civil legal aid attorney to represents low-income community members in general civil legal matters at the Tulalip Tribal Court. To be eligible for legal services from TOCLA, the client must first be a member of a federally recognized tribe, and second be low-income and meet financial requirements. Representation may be limited by the following conditions:

  • TOCLA will provide only Brief Services or Mediation Services in cases where both parties are Tulalip tribal members, unless one of the parties is or was a victim of domestic violence, in which case more comprehensive services may be available (See ‘Levels of Service’ below).
  • TOCLA will provide only Brief Services to individuals who have an issue against a tribal entity, including, but not limited to, the Tulalip Tribes, the Tulalip Gaming Agency, and the Tulalip Housing Department.

Tribal Parent Advocacy Project (TPAP): TPAP consists of one full-time and one half-time attorney to represent low-income community members in dependency cases at the Tulalip Tribal Court. To be eligible for legal services from TPAP, the client must first be a member of a federally recognized tribe or a parent of a Tulalip tribal child, and second be low-income and meet financial requirements. Representation may be limited by the following conditions:

  • A parent may be disqualified from eligibility for representation if he or she has demonstrated a pattern of domestic violence perpetration, is alleged to have killed or seriously injured a child, has a conviction involving family violence, or has perpetrated sexual abuse against a child or is a registered sex offender.

Victim Legal Advocacy Project (VLAP): VLAP consists of one attorney and a paralegal providing holistic legal representation for tribal members or a parent, spouse, or significant other of a tribal member and their children, or a member of another federally recognized tribe with priority given to those living within the Tulalip reservation boundaries, or other individuals (on a case by case basis) who are victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Eligibility for the Victim Legal Advocacy Project is not subject to Tulalip Tribes poverty guidelines. The measurement used for eligibility is the victim’s desire to leave the abusive relationship and maintain her safety as specified in the Screening Guidelines.

Tulalip Child Advocacy Project (TCAP): TCAP consists of one full-time attorney who provides holistic, developmentally appropriate, and culturally competent advocacy to children and youth who are involved in dependency (Youth in Need of Care) cases at the Tulalip Tribal Court. Children under twelve years of age are generally represented under an attorney Guardian ad Litem model, while children over twelve years of age are generally represented according to their stated interests. Exceptions to this policy can be made by the Court on a case by case basis.

  • Any party in a Youth in Need of Care case may petition the Court for the appointment of an attorney or GAL for any child involved in a Youth in Need of Care case.
  • The Child Advocate Attorney will serve as a GAL or attorney of the child or youth until the case is dismissed by the child returning home to the parent(s) or obtaining other permanency, when the youth turns 21, or by dismissal through Court order.

Pro Se Navigator: Another grant-funded position, the Pro Se Navigator helps Tribal members and others by reviewing their filled out court paperwork for completeness, explaining how to navigate the Tulalip Tribal Code, generally explain the court process, and how to get a hearing date.

Levels of Service

Brief Services: Guidance only on accessing the judicial system and/or social services; plus referrals to Tribal and State legal and social services. Because no legal advice or representation is provided at this level, it may be possible to give general guidance only regarding the legal process to both parties.

Basic Representation: Legal advice on complex uncontested matters; completing and reviewing court forms and pleadings; advocacy in the form of writing letters on clients’ behalf; and guidance on legal process.

Full Representation: Limited representation for 1-2 court hearings to full litigation representation in Tribal trial court cases, Tribal Appellate level cases, and administrative level or state and federal hearings. TPAP and VLAP provide full representation to their clients.

Mediation Services: Neutral process for bringing about agreement or reconciliation between parties in a dispute.

Types of Cases

  • Consumer Law
  • Dependency
  • Education Law
    • School Discipline
    • Special Education
  • Exclusions(deferrals only)
  • Family Law
    • Divorce/Custody/Child Support
    • Youth and Adult Guardianship
  • Gaming Licensing/ Employment
  • Housing/ Landlord-Tenant
  • Indian Estate Planning
    • Wills specific to Indian trust land
    • Health Care Directives
    • Powers of Attorney
  • Protection Orders
  • Public Benefits
    • Tribal Disability
    • TANF
    • SSI and other IHS or state benefits
  • Tribal Land Issues
  • Youth Advocacy
    • Youth Dependency Representation
    • Emancipation
    • Guardianship

Tulalip whale

TOCLA Staff Contact Us

All items with '*' = required

Defense Counsel

University of Washington Native American Law Center Public Defense Clinic (for Criminal Charges on the Tulalip Reservation Only)

The Tribal Court Public Defense Clinic at the University of Washington Native American Law Center provides public defense services in Tulalip Tribal Court. The Clinic Directors, Molly Cohan (biography, see below) and Brenda Williams (biography, see below), and the two staff attorneys, Devon Knowles, and Maya Titova, represent clients year round. This service has been in place since 2002. Since that time, the Clinic has handled almost 3,000 cases in Tulalip Tribal Court. The Directors and Staff Attorneys are admitted to practice in both Tulalip and Washington Courts. Their areas of expertise include Tulalip law, criminal law, and Indian law. They are also experts on the Indian Civil Rights Act, and its recent amendments including the Tribal Law and Order Act, and the Violence Against Woman Act.

In addition to the attorneys, selected second and third year UW law students who take the Tribal Clinic class provide assistance to clients by working on cases under direct and close Clinic supervision. During Fall Quarter, they learn Tulalip, Indian, and criminal law and study for the Tulalip Bar Exam which they must pass to be admitted to practice in Tulalip Tribal Court. Funding for this service is supported primarily by charitable contributions from the Tulalip Tribes.

The Tribal Court appoints the Tribal Court Public Defense Clinic when the defendant’s household income qualifies under Tulalip law. If you are charged with a criminal offense in the Tulalip Tribal Court, you may apply to be screened for eligibility in advance of your first hearing or you may apply at that time of your first court date. Applications are available at the Tribal Court or at the website below. If you are eligible for Clinic representation, Clinic Counsel will be appointed to represent you at your first court hearing. If the Clinic cannot represent you due to a conflict of interest, the Court will appoint Conflict Counsel. If you are arrested and incarcerated prior to charging, you must appear before the judge at which time you may apply for Counsel.

To contact the Clinic, you can call (360)716-4786. If no one answers, leave a message with a good time to call back. You may also call (206) 616-4201 or (206) 685-3917.


Clinic Directors

  • Molly M. Cohan is a Lecturer and Supervising Attorney of the Tribal Court Public Defense Clinic at the University of Washington School of Law. She also provides training and consultation in her areas of knowledge.

    Ms. Cohan has over thirty years of experience in criminal law and related fields and has specialized in the areas of training, public defense, and tribal court practice. She also has expertise in the areas of clinical legal education, pluralistic court systems, and justice system development. She has worked extensively with a variety of state and tribal court systems in the Puget Sound area and the Southwest.

    Ms. Cohan also teaches Afghan law students and professors in conjunction with the Afghan Legal Scholars Program of the Asian Law Center and regularly presents to legal professionals from around the world. She speaks frequently on the areas of advocacy skills, tribal court practice, court system development, public defense, and pluralistic court systems. Ms. Cohan has been named one of the Top Lawyers of Seattle by Seattle Met Magazine. She is admitted to practice in the Tulalip, Chehalis, Suquamish, Port Gamble S’Klallam, and Sauk Suiattle courts and is a member in good standing of the Washington State Bar Association.

  • Brenda Williams is co-Director of the Tribal Court Public Defense Clinic at the University of Washington School of law. Along with co-Director Molly Cohan, Ms. Williams manages all aspects of the representing indigent persons charged at Tulalip Tribal Court. Ms. Williams has provided public defenses services in the Tulalip Tribal Court for the Tulalip community since 2008.

    In the clinic context, Ms. Williams guides University of Washington second and third year law students through the study of the foundations of Tribal Sovereignty, the intersection of tribal, state and federal law and the rigors of meaningful criminal defense representation, in particular where representing the indigent defendant. Her supervision then transitions to students representing defendants charged in the Tulalip Tribal Court from arraignment through jury trial, with emphasis on the implementation of trial advocacy skills and training.

    Her research focus is the history of habeas corpus and the Native American, from treaty making through the Indian Civil Rights Act, as revised through the Law and Order Act of 2010 and the Violence Against Women Act of 2013. Her research specifically focuses on the evolution of the habeas process for tribal courts and the Native American from pre-Indian Civil Rights Act through the present day.

    She is a frequent presenter for the Native American Law Center’s Indian Law Symposium on the topic of ethics and the tribal court practitioner and the Washington State Bar Association’s Indian Law seminar, on the constraints of the habeas remedy in the context of the 2013 Violence Against Women Act of 2013. She is also a frequent presenter for the Native American Law Center’s Juvenile Justice Webinar Series, focusing on Indian Law Jurisdiction and the State Court Practitioner.

    She developed and has twice taught the LatCrit (Critical Latino Legal Theory) course, guiding students through an analysis of the impact of treaty making upon Latino identity within a US legal historical framework, with particular focus on labor, immigration, employment, gender and education cases.

    In June 2013, she was appointed to the King County Public Defense Advisory Task Force which was charged with investigating and reporting suggested methods for preserving the hallmarks of the strong county public defense system where the defense agencies transition to an in-house model from a non-profit model. The Task Force issued its final report in August of 2013.

    Prior to joining the faculty in 2008, she served for 10 years as a public defender at The Defender Association in Seattle representing clients in all areas of public defense, including juvenile and adult felony practice and dependency proceedings. In addition to her law degree, she received a Master of Public Administration from the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs, where she focused on policy work within the criminal justice system.

    Brenda has previously served on the Washington State Bar Association Board of Governors, as President of the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington and has received the University of Washington's Law Women's Caucus Outstanding Contribution to Women in the Law Award and the Excellence in Leadership Award from the National Latino Law Student Association.