In another attempt to overturn a law transferring Ute tribal courts to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an attorney said Wednesday that tribal members have collected enough signatures to put the status of the Ute courts to a vote.
The tribe's court system, not an independent branch of government, was placed under the supervision of the BIA on the eastern-Utah reservation March 2 under an ordinance passed by the tribe's ruling Business Committee.Tuesday, U.S. District Judge David Winder postponed a hearing requested by Danny Quintana, an attorney representing tribal dissidents and the tribe's chief judge, to place a temporary restraining order on the law.
The postponement thwarts any immediate court action to overturn the law. Although Quintana said he isn't ruling out a future complaint against the Business Committee, the court's status could be decided in a referendum vote.
"If the Ute people decide they don't want their own court system . . . fine, that is perfectly legitimate. But the issue is who is going to decide," Quintana told reporters, stressing the issue should be decided by the people.
Stewart Pike, the only Business Committee member not targeted by a separate petition drive to oust the committee, said tribal dissidents have collected signatures from one-third of the tribe's 1,500 eligible voters.
"Referendums are the way the actions of the Business Committee are reviewed by the Ute people," said John Boyden, an attorney hired by the Business Committee. A successful vote could return the courts to the tribe.
But Boyden said the tribe needs time to keep the court under the BIA's supervision so a Judicial Review Committee - composed of tribal and U.S. attorneys, a Business Committee member and others - can study the court.
Tribal attorneys have said the courts have fallen into disarray, jeopardizing due process on the 3,000-member reservation.
"There is no lack of law and order on the reservation," Pike said. "The tribal court system has been in existence for 20 years and has been fair to tribal members."
In not ruling out further court action against the tribe, attorney Quintana said the Business Committee law dissolving the court needs further scrutiny.
"After I do a complete and thorough investigation of what has happened, then and only then will I file a complaint," he said.
Pike said the Business Committee, under the tribe's constitution, does not have the expressed authority to place the court under the BIA's supervision.