By SCOTT MCKIE B.P. and ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER STAFF
A lawsuit filed in Tribal Court by three former Tribal Gaming Commissioners has been dismissed. Donald Rose, TGC Chairman, was removed from the Commission, along with Bob Blankenship and Sheila Brown on Oct. 5, 2015. One of the first acts of Principal Chief Patrick Lambert was to bring charges of malfeasance against the three with regard to the hiring process for a new executive director of the Tribal Gaming Commission.
After losing an appeal in Tribal Council, the three filed suit against Chief Lambert in Tribal Court.
“In their lawsuit, they claim essentially they weren’t given a fair, legal process,” said Scott Jones, an Asheville-based attorney representing Chief Lambert. “Yesterday (Wednesday, May 4), there was a hearing on that in front of Judge Baker with the Cherokee Court, and he found that they had been given full and fair legal process called due process in Constitutional standards.”
He added, “So, after a thorough hearing in March, the Tribal Council upheld their terminations. That was the right decision. And, after a full, fair and complete hearing yesterday, the Tribal Court ruled that they had been given due process and dismissed their lawsuit. So, both the Tribal Council and the Tribal Court have determined that the dismissals were proper.”
Former Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith represented the three ex-commissioners in the protest hearing and lawsuit. He told the One Feather the plaintiffs plan to file an appeal to the Cherokee Supreme Court.
“Really what is at issue here is the Cherokee people being protected by issues of this government. The narrow legal issue is can the Eastern Band government continue abusing the rights of its citizens by invoking sovereign immunity?”
He added, “We believe the case law and the ordinances of the Eastern Band are clear that Cherokee citizens have rights that should be protected.”
It may be next week or after before Judge Baker officially signs the order dismissing the case oficially.
Jones related that State Courts and Tribal Courts do not have full-time law clerks so judges ask the winning attorney to prepare the Orders to be signed. “There were a number of things that Judge Baker said he wanted in the written order. Because of that, I expect it will be next week before the Order is submitted to Judge Baker.”
Chief Lambert was the first TGC executive director, a position he held for 22 years. After he resigned the post to run for Principal Chief, the TGC began a hiring process that led to the TGC executive director position being offered to former Principal Chief Michell Hicks. Chief Lambert asserted that protocols had not been followed and favoritism had been shown in the process of hiring former Chief Hicks.
Chief Lambert brought forth a resolution (Resolution 4) to Tribal Council on Oct. 4, 2015 calling for the removal of the three commissioners. Council unanimously agreed and approved the measure and subsequent measures naming new commissioners.
The Tribal Council protest hearing Jones spoke of took place on March 24. Council heard from legal representatives of the parties on that day and reconvened on March 29 to deliberate. After several hours in closed session, Council emerged with the decision to deny the protest.
During the March 24 protest hearing, Jones argued that the former commissioners had ignored and/or changed educational requirements during the application process and in conflict with Tribal Codes. Jones also asserted that the commissioners intended to pay their selection at a higher rate of pay that be warranted given former Chief Hicks’ level of education and experience, which would be another violation of standards.
Also during the protest hearing, Smith asserted that Blankenship, Rose and Brown had been accused and convicted without a trial. He stated that the Tribal Council was not the proper place to hear or to take action against the TGC, suggesting that it should be heard in court. Jones disagreed and pointed to Cherokee Code which defines a process for “removal, with cause, by a majority of the Tribal Council”.