Hopi Vice Chairman suspends entire Hopi Appellate Court

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - The surprise Hopi political moves just keep coming.

In yet another chapter of history-making events at Hopi, Chairman Ben Nuvamsa turned up for his extraordinary writ hearing at Hopi Tribal Court on Nov. 3 only to find that Vice Chairman Todd Honyaoma had suspended the entire Hopi Appellate Court.

The scheduled hearing was requesting for the Hopi Appellate Court to grant Nuvamsa a temporary restraining order against Honyaoma.

A prior request by Nuvamsa for this restraining order had been denied by Hopi Tribal Judge Delfred Leslie only a couple of weeks earlier.

The judges currently on the Hopi Appellate Court are Fred Lomayesva, Justin Richland and Patricia Sekaquaptewa.

All three judges are law school graduates, members of the state bar and according to former Hopi Chief Tribal Prosecutor Dorma Sahneyha, have served the Hopi people effectively and professionally since their appointments.

Vice Chairman Honyaoma in a press release dated Nov. 3 says the "suspension of the Appellate Court judges was made necessary following a review of information provided by Hopi Tribal Prosecutor Jeff Porturica that contain serious allegations of possible judicial misconduct."

According to Honyaoma's press release, after listening to recorded proceedings of the Hopi Appellate Court session on Oct. 27, information provided by Porturica alleges that "Ms. Sahneyah, upon urging from Chairman Nuvamsa, spoke with Judge Sekaquaptewa ... about the case and they arranged to fast track Nuvamsa's case with the Hopi Appellate Court. This occurred in advance of any opportunity for the defendants ... to speak with the courts on the merits of the case."

Honyaoma concluded by saying, "This incident and others that followed must be fully investigated to determine the extent of any tampering that may have occurred on the part of Ms. Sahneyah, the extent of any involvement Nuvamsa may have had in the matter, and more importantly to determine whether judicial misconduct has occurred on the part of the court."

In another press release, Sahneyah, strongly disagreed with both deputy prosecutor Porturica and Vice Chairman Honyaoma saying, "The Vice Chairman's allegations are not true and are clearly intended to 'prevent a very credible and highly capable' appellate court from reaching a speedy and just decision in all the recent action brought before their court."

Sahneyah denies that she was urged by Nuvamsa or that she made arrangements with Justice Sekaquaptewa in Chairman Nuvamsa's 2007 petition for extraordinary writ.

Sahneyah also went on to to say that this was not the first time that Hopis have been fed untruths to create suspicion in their minds about honorable individuals simply to justify attempts to get rid of them because they stand in the way of the quest of misguided officials for unrestrained power.

Sahneyah concluded by saying that she feels Honyaoma and his supporters may be violating Hopi and Tewa rights under the U.S. and the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Sahneyah was fired as the Chief Tribal Prosecutor by Honyaoma following Nuvamsa's suspension last month, which is seen by many Hopis and Tewas as a politically motivated termination.

Several attempts to interview Vice Chairman Honyaoma were made, but a brief phone interview was granted by the Hopi Tribe's current legal counsel, Scott Canty, who was working out of the Hopi Tribal offices in Flagstaff on Friday.

Asking Canty if he felt he was in conflict of interest by only representing Honyaoma and whether he had an ethical obligation to also represent the Hopi Tribal Chairman, he said, "I am still the Hopi Tribe's legal counsel and it would be improper of me to comment on a pending case. I am also awaiting a Hopi court decision to determine whether I can even represent the defendants, Todd Honyaoma, Mary Felter, Ivan Sidney and Russell Mockta in their official capacities. Until that time, I am not at liberty to discuss any portion of the case."

More information on this story will be published in a later issue.

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