Utah county to pay $2.6 M settlement to Navajo Nation

In this Oct. 24, 2018, file photo, Democratic county commission candidate Willie Grayeyes, left, speaks to a group while Kenneth Maryboy, a Navajo who is running unopposed for another seat on the commission, looks on in White Mesa, Utah. A federal appeals court on Tuesday, July 16, 2019, upheld newly drawn voting districts in a Utah county after a judge had found the old boundaries amounted to racial gerrymandering and violated the rights of Navajo voters. Since then, a Navajo Democrat, Grayeyes fought in court to get on the ballot and later won a county commissioner seat. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

In this Oct. 24, 2018, file photo, Democratic county commission candidate Willie Grayeyes, left, speaks to a group while Kenneth Maryboy, a Navajo who is running unopposed for another seat on the commission, looks on in White Mesa, Utah. A federal appeals court on Tuesday, July 16, 2019, upheld newly drawn voting districts in a Utah county after a judge had found the old boundaries amounted to racial gerrymandering and violated the rights of Navajo voters. Since then, a Navajo Democrat, Grayeyes fought in court to get on the ballot and later won a county commissioner seat. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — County officials in Utah have agreed to pay $2.6 million to the Navajo Nation following a voting rights case that reconfigured voting districts.

The San Juan County Commission voted unanimously Sept. 24 to pay plaintiff fees to Navajo Nation attorneys over the next eight years, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Sept. 24.

The Navajo Nation first filed a lawsuit against San Juan County under the Voting Rights Act seven years ago, county officials said.

A one-time $1.3 million payment is expected in January, followed by annual $200,000 payments until the full amount is paid off, officials said.

The Navajo Nation's attorneys had originally requested $3.4 million in fees and costs under Voting Rights Act provisions, the newspaper reported.

The case that reconfigured the county's voting districts and led to the election of its first majority-Navajo Commission appears to be finally over.

"It's time to move forward and stay focused on the business of running this county. My goal now is to have this settlement affect San Juan County's residents as little as possible as we figure out how to best manage this obligation over the next few years," said Kenneth Maryboy, chairman of the commission and member of the Navajo Nation.

Initially it was feared that the fees could drain the county's general fund, which dropped in part because of $3 million spent on outside legal counsel, county employees said.

The county may have to make short-term loans to its general fund from other accounts, but it would not be a financial blow, Interim County Administrator David Everitt said. The county would be able to pay the expense without dipping into the Tax Stability Fund, but it is a move that would require a vote by residents in the county.

County officials were warned of high costs early in the lawsuit, according to court documents. The Navajo Nation offered three settlement agreements from 2014 to 2016 when the expenditures were just over $1 million.

A year later another settlement was proposed when costs reached $2 million, but the county declined all of the offers, said Steven Boos, the lead attorney for the Navajo Nation.

The case was brought to trial in 2017, and a federal judge ruled in favor of the Navajo Nation ordering the county's school board and commission districts to be redrawn. A special November election was also a part of the order leading to the election of Democratic commissioners and members of the Navajo Nation Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes.

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