Hopi Chief Judge reinstated by Hopi Appellate Court

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - Chief Judge Gary LaRance was formally appointed to the Hopi Tribal court in July 2002, endorsed by Hopi tribal resolution, which provided that he could only be terminated "for cause" and only by "following the procedures set out under Hopi Tribal Ordinance 21, Section 1.5.1.

At that time, Wayne Taylor was the Chairman.

Five years had passed and on April 23, 2007, then Vice Chairman Todd Honyaoma Sr. notified LaRance that he was calling a special meeting of the Hopi Tribal Council to terminate his employment with the Hopi Courts and Hopi Tribe.

Honyaoma attached to this notice, a statement of written charges, a copy of Action Item 048-2007 and a draft resolution for LaRance's removal.

The written charges submitted by Honyaoma stated one charge, "arrest for disorderly conduct," alleging that LaRance did engage in behavior constituting the offense of disorderly conduct, a criminal offense violation of the Hopi Tribe, on the afternoon of April 14, 2007 near or on Hopi High School.

The second charge was "arrest for assault and battery," alleging that LaRance willfully, knowingly and unlawfully used force or violence on Jacob Koopee Jr. by pulling Koopee backwards with such force that Koopee had to hold onto the bleachers with his feet to keep from being pulled off the bleachers.

LaRance was arrested for those charges by the Hopi BIA Police and eventually released on his own recognizance.

Since that time, two new Hopi Tribal Chairmen have come and gone, and over a year ago, the Hopi Council disbanded the Hopi Appellate Court in a political overthrow, which held up LaRance's request for a formal appeal to have the case reviewed and overturned.

However, LaRance's patience paid off and his day of vindication finally came last week. On Oct. 6, Chief Justice Fred Lomayesva of the newly reinstated Hopi Appellate Court, as of February 2010, overturned the lower court decision issued in April 2009 declaring that the 2002 contract between LaRance and the Hopi Tribe as "valid, binding, and the appellant shall immediately resume his duties as Chief Judge ..."

LaRance was not only reinstated, but is also entitled to full back pay, full payment of his 401K savings as well as expenses incurred in his suit within 180 days.

Though LaRance was eventually found guilty of the aforementioned charges, the Hopi Appellate Court stated that LaRance should not have been terminated just for being arrested, according to the 22 page opinion and order issued by the Court last week.

Now the matter lies with the Hopi Tribal Council to make the formal reappointment of LaRance. If LaRance is reinstated immediately, this could alleviate the legal bottleneck that has been holding up lower court cases for the Hopi people over the past two years.

However, in an email interview, LaRance stated, "After careful and thoughtful consideration of this recent reinstatement by the Hopi Appellate Court, I have decided to resign my former position as Chief Judge. This decision is partly due to my own successful private law practice in Flagstaff that has about 60 current clients and my concern about having to ask those clients to look for another attorney. I feel it would be selfish of me to not think of my current clients needs and return to my old position at the Hopi Tribal Courts."

No comments were available from the Hopi Tribal Council as of press time.

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