By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Tribal Council launched an investigation in January following a settlement payout to seven former employees of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. That investigation is now complete and has found there was no wrongdoing by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed in the settlement process, and Tribal Council has committed to writing tribal law dealing with how lawsuit settlements are handled in the future.
The settlement, totaling $698,000, was paid to end a wrongful termination lawsuit (Blankenship, et. Al. v. Lambert) filed in Cherokee Tribal Court in December 2015. The investigation, conducted by Elite Private Investigations from Hendersonville, started after Tribal Council approved Res. No. 92 (2018) during its regular session on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. The resolution stated in part, “Tribal Council requests an outside entity to conduct an investigation to ensure Chief Sneed complied with policies, plans, procedures, law, and regulations regarding the Blankenship and others v. Lambert settlement.”
For their services on the investigation, Elite Private Investigations was paid $13,188.70.
“I appreciate being exonerated of any wrongdoing in this,” said Chief Sneed. “I had guidance from the Attorney General’s Office. There is just no law, and I appreciate the fact that Tribal Council is going to going to create a process and law which is what I have encouraged all along. There needs to be a process and law, and that is what the legislative body is tasked with doing. I am very encouraged, according to the statement that they’ve released, that they’re going to do that because as it stands right now, tribal law is silent on how settlements are handled.”
Carolyn West, Tribal Council’s legal counsel, wrote in a release to the One Feather on Tuesday, May 15, “As the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians continues to move forward, the Tribal Council reviewed the findings of the settlement investigation. The investigation showed a need for a settlement policy. This is due to the fact no settlement process is the same each time. In the coming months, Tribal Council will submit legislation to correct this issue.”
The release noted that the settlement payouts came from the Tribe’s Lawsuit Settlement line-item. “There were two check dates because of a calculation error by the insurance company, November 30, 2017 and December 7, 2017. No individuals were paid. The check was cut to the law firm who represented them, Carpenter, Guy & Arnold, PLLC.”
The release went on to state, “Prior settlement procedures were different. Some settlements had a Tribal Council authorization resolution prior to payment and some did not. The settlement investigation answered the questions presented in Resolution No. 92 (2018).”
The Cherokee Supreme Court, in July 2017, advised the parties to seek mediation. Following that mediation, an original settlement was filed in Tribal Court on Oct. 9, 2017 that called for the plaintiffs to split $525,000. On Nov. 6, 2017, a new settlement was filed with the amount being $698,000.
In a report to the One Feather on Dec. 15, 2017, Chief Sneed wrote, “The settlement of the lawsuit was reached after a formal mediation conducted by a neutral third-party attorney/mediator. The mediation was attended by the parties and their attorneys, including the attorney for the Tribe’s insurer. Patrick Lambert and his attorney W. Scott Jones were invited to participate in the mediation but chose not to.”
He went on to state in part, “I authorized the settlement after weighing the risks, costs and discord that come with continued litigation. Among other things, I determined that in view of the recent upheaval in tribal government, the best approach was to promote unity and healing within the Tribe and to settle the lawsuit.”