By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Those named in a lawsuit involving pay raises for Tribal Council that occurred last fall are responsible for their own legal representation according to a resolution passed in Annual Council on Wednesday, Oct. 14. The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, Oct. 6 in Tribal Court by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for Justice & Accountability (EBCIJA), disputes the pay raises.
The resolution, submitted on Wednesday by Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, states in part, “Tribal Council was served with a demand letter several months ago, and only with discussion, no vote, retained legal services from a firm in Washington, DC…to date, the tribe has already spent $49,000 for legal fees for Tribal Council Members in defense of the demand letter.”
The resolution goes on to state that each individual named in the lawsuit “will be responsible for their own attorney”.
In addition to former Principal Chief Michell Hicks and former Vice Chief Larry Blythe, the following are named as defendants in the lawsuit and are being sued in their individual capacity: former Tribal Council Chairwoman Terri Henry, Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor, former Birdtown Rep. Gene “Tunney” Crowe Jr., Yellowhill Rep. Alan B. Ensley, Birdtown Rep. Albert R. Rose, Painttown Rep. Virginia Lee Bradley (Tommye) Saunooke, former Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell, Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha, former Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe, former Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Diamond Brown, former Tribal Council Chairman James “Jim” Owle, former Wolftown Rep. Michael Parker, and former Big Cove Rep. James “Bo” Taylor. Former EBCI Deputy of Finance Kim Peone is being sued in her official capacity.
“When we are charged, we are responsible,” said Rep. McCoy during the discussion on the legislation on Wednesday. “We will step up and do what’s right…we will pay for our legal representation by ourselves.”
She added, “The action that happened in here a year ago today was wrong, and it needs to be straightened out and handled…The tribe has already spent a lot of money on the demand letter. If you’re going to spend money, spend it on the actual charges, not the letter.”
Hannah Smith, EBCI attorney general, commented, “You already have an attorney representing Tribal Council on this case. I would advise you to stop discussion on this in this forum and discuss it in closed session.” She said it would be inappropriate to discuss parts of the case in public.
Rep. McCoy replied, “We’re not discussing the case. This legislation has nothing to do with that lawsuit. All they have to do is go out and hire them an attorney. It has nothing to do with that case.”
Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha related that he has already hired a personal attorney. He said he fears that the resolution could end up setting a precedent whereby the Tribal Council could relinquish parts of its legislative immunity. “We’ve been saying that for two years we need our own legal counsel. If we pass this, then we basically give up a piece of our immunity and then we’re liable for anything at that point. This body does need its own legal counsel.”
Yellowhill Rep. E. Ensley agreed with Rep. Wachacha and spoke of similar lawsuits filed against the Cherokee School Board in years past. “When the School Board or this Tribal Council acts, then it’s as a whole. You’re still a collective body.”
Smith added, “All government bodies have the right to make decisions without fear of being held personally liable when they are acting in their role as government representatives.”
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke echoed the need for legal cousel for Tribal Council. “I need some legal advice. We have begged and pleaded for some legal advice. I want a full-fledged attorney telling me these are the rights and wrongs of your legislation…we need our own.”
Resolution No. 261 (2014), passed on Oct. 14, 2014, is the main point of contention in the lawsuit. That legislation approved the FY2015 EBCI tribal budget and included pay raises for the members of Tribal Council which the EBCIJA alleges is in violation of Section 117-15(a) which states, “Pay increases for the Tribal Council members shall not exceed the amount appropriated in that fiscal year for Tribal employees. These pay increases shall not take effect until the next elected Tribal Council members are seated…”