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Tuesday deal likely to save tribal court from take-over

Oct 4, 2016 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

The Bureau of Indian Affairs had pledged repeatedly last week to depose the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Court on Monday, however, the tribal court remains open and hearing cases.

Dean Goggles, chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, said his tribal council has agreed temporarily to fund the tribal court, a decision that apparently has appeased the BIA.

"The United States Department of Justice has made it clear that they (now) do not intend on standing up a BIA-run CFR court," Goggles said.

Orders refused

The Shoshone Business Council had issued requests for tribal court employees to voluntarily lay themselves off Friday, threatening that these employees would not get paid unless they signed the paperwork.

After all employees refused, the SBC then arrived at the courthouse Monday with involuntary layoff letters that stipulated that employees must turn in their keys by 3 p.m.

Chief Judge John St. Clair told his employees to ignore this request.

The jail in Fort Washakie -- which is operated by the BIA -- typically provides the tribal court with a list of weekend arrests on Monday mornings so the judge can schedule hearings.

Barring a court order, jailers initially did not provide that list and did not allow the clerk's office to collect bonds. However, prisoners were being processed as normal by Tuesday.

Though the BIA previously had said it was prepared to "immediately" set up its own court system Monday, jailers had expected a lapse in the existence of a court system.

Prisoners freed

Presuming that hearings would not able to be scheduled and that the jail might fill its 48-person capacity, jailers allowed multiple short-term prisoners to walk free Friday. St. Clair himself said he authorized five more long-term prisoners to be released.

If the BIA set up its own court -- commonly called a CFR court -- it would have had wide-ranging effects on law enforcement.

Under the Code of Federal Regulations tribal laws, an American Indian need to be a party to every lawsuit. Under the Shoshone and Arapaho Law and Order Code, however, that's not the case.

If a non-Indian suffers a workplace injury on the Wind River Indian Reservation, he can sue his employer in tribal court.

That policy allows the tribes to have greater oversight of energy and mining companies on the reservation, St. Clair said, adding that he believes his court should hear every case that comes to him because the tribal court is reliant on federal funding.

Hunting season on the reservation also began Saturday, and outside of trespass laws regarding non-Indians, there are no CFR codes governing hunting.

Before Tuesday's agreement was reached, the SBC asked the BIA to recognize the tribe's law and order code, with the exception of St. Clair's Thursday order, which took wide-reaching action against the SBC, barring it from taking unilateral action "pertaining to funds, personnel, management and any other operational decision" of joint programs.

St. Clair ordered the SBC immediately to stop spending any self-determination funds the BIA had issued in the 2016 fiscal year to the "SBC acting as the Joint Business Council" and ordered those funds to be transferred into an account controlled by both tribes.

He also ordered the tribe to fully account by Oct. 31 for all funds it has drawn down, as well as the court fine monies it has "unlawfully" held in the past fiscal year.

In a press release issued that day, Darwin St. Clair, chairman of the SBC, said his tribe would not comply with the "unlawful order."

The temporary order was issued in response to an Arapaho complaint filed the same day. And though the tribal code does not require notice be given when John St. Clair issued such an order, Darwin St. Clair said the action was done "contrary to court procedures."

Darwin St. Clair also said the judge "appears to have violated judicial canons of ethics in rubber-stamping in the order NABC's attorneys presented without notice in a case where he has direct financial interests."

Darwin St. Clair also criticized the Arapaho complaint. He said the SBC would appeal the filing.

"It is a stream-of-consciousness rant that ignores the rules of pleading that require a party to cite law supporting its claims," he said.

The Northern Arapaho Business Council also is awaiting a similar decision by federal court judge Brian Morris, who is weighing whether also to issue an injunction against the Bureau of Indian Affairs for its enabling of unilateral control of joint programs by the SBC.

After the NABC withdrew from the Joint Business Council in 2014, the BIA opted to issue self-determination funds -- which had been earmarked for both tribes -- solely to the SBC last fall.

Because the last of those contracts expired Saturday, the BIA is arguing that the Arapaho complaint should now be considered moot.

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