An attorney for tribal dissidents wants to calm a political storm on the Ute Indian Reservation by asking a federal judge to rule whether the suspension of the Ute court system by the tribe's ruling Business Committee was legal.
Attorney Danny Quintana and a U.S. attorney representing the Bureau of Indian Affairs will appear March 10 before U.S. District Judge David K. Winder to argue whether the Ute law abolishing the tribe's judicial system is legal.Wednesday the six-member Business Committee passed an ordinance dissolving the court system and then transferring supervisory power of the court, not an independent branch of Ute government, to the BIA.
Tribal dissidents already trying to oust the Business Committee via a recall election called the move an attempt by the committee to avoid appearing before the court to answer charges of interfering with the recall election.
"They (dissidents) have requested a hearing . . . to determine whether or not the actions by the tribal council, in taking away the complete jurisdiction of these courts, is legal," said Quintana, representing three Ute dissidents, including the tribe's chief judge.
Quintana wants the court to review whether the move was simply a "retaliatory" act against tribal dissidents and whether the Business Committee has the power to scuttle the courts.
"These people want their own court system," Quintana said, explaining that the Ute tribe is a sovereign nation with its own Constitution and a system of government much different from the U.S. federal government.
Quintana admitted he could be unsuccessful in arguing the ordinance is illegal but said airing the issue in federal court would help settle political dust on the reservation, raised mostly because of the recall election.
"Everyone should keep calm and let this matter be handled in the courts," he urged.
The BIA believes that because the courts, under the Ute Constitution, fall under the purview of the Business Committee, the committee does have the authority to dissolve the judiciary, U.S. Attorney Margaret Nelson said.
Additionally, Nelson noted a federal judge ruled Thursday against Quintana in his attempt to get a temporary restraining order to block the court's dissolution. Quintana called the hearing only a partial airing of the issue.
Stephen Boyden, attorney for the Business Committee, said the ordinance would remove any potential for conflict of interest on the committee's part by placing the court under the BIA's jurisdiction.
But Quintana said the same objective could have been achieved by consultation with tribal dissidents.
His clients will cooperate, however, "if it turns out the actions of the Business Committee are not for retaliation but because of necessity," he said.
The Business Committee ordinance took effect Wednesday and immediately dissolved the court, suspended its calendar and placed judges on paid administrative leave, BIA Superintendent Perry Baker said.
Monday, the BIA will impanel new non-Ute judges who have extensive experience in Indian law and have served as judges in BIA courts on the Reservation, Baker said.