WINDOW ROCK—Navajo Nation Council Speaker Edward T. Begay expressed satisfaction with Window Rock District Judge Allen Sloan’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Edison Wauneka and others against the Speaker, members of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, and the Director of the Office of Legislative Services in a press release dated August 31.
"The laws of the Navajo Nation have been followed," Speaker Begay said. "The Navajo Nation 2000 Chapter Election will proceed on September 5, 2000."
Judge Sloan’s order upheld the provisions of the Navajo Sovereign Immunity Act and dismissed the lawsuit on the basis that Wauneka, a Navajo Nation Council Delegate, and his fellow plaintiffs failed to follow the procedural requirements of the Act. Judge Sloan’s order also rejected Wauneka’s argument that the Speaker and the other defendants were acting as individuals, rather than public officials in the actions complained of by Wauneka.
"I am optimistic that my colleague, Mr. Wauneka, and the plaintiffs will see that their efforts are misguided," said Speaker Begay. "The Court’s decision ensures that the Navajo people will finally get to exercise their right to vote for their Chapter officials, and to determine in the referendum whether to reduce the Navajo Nation Council to 24 delegates.
"The Navajo Nation Council’s actions have always been to make sure that the Navajo people get to vote on these matters," he said. "I am pleased that the Council’s protection of the voting rights of the Navajo people will result in the conduct of the election next Tuesday."
Previously, the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors called off the Chapter election on July 31, 2000, the day before the election, which should have been held on August 1, 2000 under Navajo Nation law. The Board canceled the election even though it had spent approximately $150,000 of Navajo Nation funds to print ballots, train poll officials, and otherwise prepare for the election. The Board’s action on July 31 also disregarded the enactment of the Council in Resolution CJY-51-00, which would temporarily relieve the Board and the Director of the Navajo Election Administration if they failed to conduct the election on August 1, 2000. Under the Council resolution, the powers and authorities of the Board and the NEA Director were temporarily transferred to the Intergovernmental Relations Committee and the Director of the Office of Legislative Services.
Immediately following the Board’s refusal to conduct the Chapter election on August 1, the Council took action to reschedule the 2000 Chapter Election for September 5. The Council adopted a timeline to ensure that the rights of absentee voters were fully protected and to make sure that the officials elected during the 2000 Chapter Election can be sworn in during the week of October 9-13, as required by Navajo Nation law.
Speaker Begay said, "The Intergovernmental Relations Committee and the Director of the Office of Legislative Services faithfully performed their duties to see that the election is conducted on September 5. Working with the staff of the Navajo Election Administration, they were able to take all of the actions necessary to meet the timeline set by the Council. They are to be commended for the diligent work in protecting the voting rights of the Navajo people.
Chief Legislative Counsel Steve Boos said, "It was clear from the beginning that the plaintiffs had failed to follow the Sovereign Immunity Act. I am not surprised by the Court’s decision to dismiss this lawsuit. The plaintiffs’ counsel has on numerous occasions filed actions against the Navajo Nation without meeting the requirements of the Act. The lawsuits have always been dismissed because of failure to follow the clear procedural requirements."
Furthermore, Boos said, "The Navajo Sovereign Immunity act is not a ‘shield’ for the Navajo Nation to hide behind, but 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. Frivolous or procedurally defective claims will not be heard."
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