by Rob Trepp
(This article was originally sent to out to media and some Human Rights Groups on or around December 7, 2010.)
I’m not sure if this can be unraveled by an outsider. I tell my friends that, if they think they understand Creek politics, it wasn’t explained to them right.
The story goes back several years, when the Muscogee (Creek) Chief sued the Council for amending his budget, and our tribal Supreme Court not only agreed with the Chief, but found Council members in contempt, punished by signs being posted in community centers (which are also resident voting precincts) immediately before and through a primary election.
The story also includes aConstitutional Convention (and a suit by an ally of the Chief which removed Council members from the organizing committee, although leaving the District Court Judge as chair of that committee) which passed (subject to referendum approval) a proposal to limit the number of council members, but which was later changed by the organizing committee to also end district representation in favor of at-large representation, a matter which was never discussed in the Convention.
I filed a number of procedural challenges with our Election Board the day before the referenda. No hearing was ever held.
As co-plaintiff with our Council, i further proceeded to our District Court, where the Judge (same as above) recused himself. Without briefs and without hearings, the “filing” was issued after a long delay, signed by three justices. The “response” has now been issued and signed by three justices (there are only six seats).
In the interim, the term of the District Judge has expired, and his renomination was not confirmed. With other nominees also rejected, the Chief Justice appointed the District Judge to remain in office. When that was challenged, the court deadlocked three-to-three, and the Chief Justice’s appointment was not overturned.
During that dispute, the tribe’s Attorney General stated that the disputed appointment may lead to cases being overturned at a later date. Without statutory authority, he was “dismissed” by the Chief.
And when the Council did not approve the Chief’s budget for FY2011, the disputed District Judge ruled they could not fail to act, and appropriated first quarter funding from the bench (ignoring the known budget shortfall resulting from a decline in gaming revenue coupled with payments due, both principal and interest, on new gaming facilities built by the Chief).
In the mean time, audits of chartered tribal community organizations (gaming and tobacco sales revenues), supervised by the disputed District Judge, have resulted in the Chief’s attorney in the disputes above being appointed Special Prosecutor and indicting eleven tribal members for felonies and twenty-one more for misdemeanors, with unusually high amounts of bail being set by the disputed District Judge (and the Chief and his allies get a much higher proportion of votes among our absentee voters than among the actual residents of our eight districts in Oklahoma).
By the way, the Muscogee Nation Bar Association is chaired by the Chief’s attorney (also Special Prosecutor) in this series of cases, and, besides, has no disciplinary process anyway (as designed by the disputed District Judge).
Believe me, this is the center of political conversation among our people. what could help would be an outsider’s point-of-view, if not to take sides then at least to shine some light on the problems. The fact that our public media (monthly newspaper, weekly radio show) do not report fully on this is because they are employed by our Chief.
I can’t guarantee this is an easy study. I can’t even guarantee that an objective observer would agree with my point of view. However, it is a significant issue involving democratic ideals and constitutional principles which deserves attention.