WINDOW ROCK—The lawsuits which rocked the Aneth Chapter ended recently when the Navajo Nation Supreme Court dismissed the last of the appeals filed by the former Chapter President and Vice President, Nelson Rockwell and Leonard Lee. In a one page order dated August 16, 2000, the Court dismissed the last appeal pending in the cases which began when the Ethic and Rules Committee removed Rockwell and Lee in connection with the embezzlement of several thousands of dollars in chapter monies.
The appeal centered on a March 3 order of Judge Thomas Holgate of the Window Rock District Court. Judge Holgate dismissed a lawsuit for injunctive relief filed by Lee and Rockwell to halt the special election that was to take place in Aneth to replace them after their removal.
In its motion to dismiss, the Board of Election Supervisors argued that the Court had no jurisdiction to hear the action because the Sovereign Immunity Act excluded review of discretionary acts by the Board and the case had been filed prematurely before expiration of the 30 day notice period required by the Act.
Judge Holgate agreed that the Sovereign Immunity Act was not complied with and dismissed. Lee and Rockwell appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed that appeal.
Chief Legislative Counsel Steven Boos commented on the win by the Office of Legislative Counsel. "I think this Order should send a message that the Navajo courts require strict compliance with the Sovereign Immunity Act when someone wants to sue the Nation. The issues in the Lee and Rockwell case are identical to those that have been raised in the recent lawsuit filed by Edison Wauneka. I expect the same result in the Wauneka case."
Boos went on to comment that there is some irony in the new order from the Supreme Court. "When Lee and Rockwell sued the Board of Election Supervisors in March, the Board was delighted to see the Sovereign Immunity Act strictly enforced when the Board was defended by it. But now the plaintiffs who have sued the Intergovernmental Relations Committee over the temporary displacement of the Board for its failure to hold the August 1 chapter election are arguing that the Act should not be strictly enforced."
The Navajo Sovereign Immunity Act serves to protect the interests of the Navajo people to ensure that the government is not ground to a halt by every lawsuit that is filed against the Nation or its officials. Claims with merit, when properly filed, will be heard.. "The Sovereign Immunity Act protected the Board of Election Supervisors from the procedurally defective claims filed by Lee and Rockwell in March. It will now protect the Intergovernmental Relations Committee from the procedurally defective filing by Mr. Wauneka."
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