The Ute Indian Tribe's prosecutor says he was illegally arrested and that the tribal court is attempting to assert criminal jurisdiction over him - although he is a Navajo, not a Ute.
The request for a writ of habeas corpus, filed in U.S. District Court by Norman F. Cambridge, Roosevelt, is the latest manifestation of a bitter feud between the tribe's ruling Business Committee and the tribal court, which the Business Committee voted to dissolve.Ute legal questions are handled by a special Court of Indian Offenses administered by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Meanwhile, a group of dissidents called Concerned Tribal Members have charged committee members with wrongdoing and are trying to oust five of the six members through a petition drive.
Cambridge, an enrolled member of the Navajo Tribe, is married to a member of the Ute Tribe, the request says. Although he is the tribal prosecutor, he is not a lawyer.
The tribe contends that even though he isn't a Ute, the fact that he is an Indian makes him subject to their criminal law jurisdiction, the request adds.
Cambridge said his problems stem from the controversy between the tribal court and the Business Committee, sparked by the committee's decision to allow cross-deputization. In it, the tribe would deputize state and local police so they could arrest tribal members suspected of violating the Utes' Law and Order Code. Meanwhile, the BIA could arrest non-members suspected of violating the law.
The Business Committee favors the cross-deputization and the tribal court opposes it, the request says.
In January and February, the tribe held hearings on the issue, which were recorded by the tribal court's clerk. The Business Committee asked Cambridge to copy the tapes, and he asked the clerk for some, the request says.
The clerk allowed him to remove the tapes so he could listen to them and copy them at his office, the request adds. He "checked out these tapes in the same manner as he had checked out other tapes from the Ute Tribal Court in performance of his duties as tribal prosecutor," it says.
He returned them "undamaged and unaltered to the clerk." But when tribal judge Katherine Jenks learned that Cambridge had checked out the tapes, she filed a criminal complaint against him, according to the request.
The complaint, dated Feb. 8, charges him with "tampering with public records" under the tribal Law and Order Code.
He was arraigned in tribal court Feb. 17 without a lawyer and pleaded not guilty. He asked that the charge be dismissed because he is not a Ute and therefore not under the code's jurisdiction.
His motion was summarily denied by the tribal court, the request says.
"No habeas corpus procedure exists in the Ute Tribal Court system. The Ute Law and Order Code does provide for a court of appeals in theory, but there is no functioning appellate court on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation," it says.
Cambridge wants the federal court to rule he is not subject to the tribal court or its successor, the BIA's special court, which operates under the same requirements.
Although the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 limits the Ute Tribal Court and the BIA court to punishment of no more than $500 fine and six months in imprisonment, the request says, the tribal court gets around this.
"The Ute Tribal Court routinely sentences persons convicted of multiple violations of the Ute Law and Order Code to consecutive six-month periods of imprisonment," it says.