West Miami-Dade

Miami man wins in tribal court legal dispute

A Miami man has prevailed in his unique legal fight to keep a child-custody dispute out of Miccosukee tribal court.

The Florida Supreme Court this week refused to hear an appeal by the man’s former Miccosukee girlfriend who insisted the case did not belong in a Miami-Dade court.

The case was brought by Kevin Stier, who wants joint custody of his two young children with tribal member Layla Billie.

“A heavy weight has been lifted off of my shoulders,” Stier said. “Now I can go forward in the Miami-Dade court like other fathers. I am hopeful that soon my children and I will enjoy more time together and I can have more involvement in their lives.”

The Miccosukee tribe, which has about 600 members and owns a gambling resort at the corner of Krome Avenue and Tamiami Trail, is a sovereign nation complete with its own courthouse and police department.

In October 2012, tribal judges awarded custody of the children to Billie, even though they lived in Pembroke Pines, not on the West Miami-Dade reservation.

That day, Stier’s lawyer was not allowed to enter the tribal courtroom. The hearing was conducted only in the Miccosukee language. In turn, he filed suit in Miami-Dade, asking the court to take jurisdiction.

Late last year, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Mindy Glazer agreed with Stier, saying the tribal court’s procedures — which did not allow the father to testify or even have his lawyer inside court to watch — were legally substandard. An appeals court in April upheld her ruling.

Similar child custody disputes are not unusual in states with large Native American populations. But they are rare in Florida, where the tribal population is less than 10,000.

An attorney for Layla Billie declined to comment. Stier’s lawyer, William Brady, said, “This may be a landmark case relied upon by similar families for years to come.”