A Court of Indian Offenses judge, despite previous indications that he would essentially force the hand of Seneca-Cayuga leaders through the granting of a specific motion, is not bringing the swift action he initially proposed, according to an order issued from his court on Monday.
Judge William Wantland, who prompted plaintiffs to ask the court for a writ of mandamus — which orders a public official or governmental body to perform an act required by law when it has neglected or refused to do so — and said he would immediately grant the order, set the matter for hearing in January and issued a stay, pending appeal by the tribe.
In a case now before the CFR court, the writ would force Seneca-Cayuga Tribe to hold a general council meeting and address matters which Wantland ruled had been improperly denied by Chief Paul Spicer.
“Upon the filing of a motion for a writ of mandamus, a writ will be issued by this court, ordering a meeting of the general council for the purpose of a hearing to determine whether the present grievance committee should be removed,” Wantland said last week. The judge indicated at that time that the action would ensure an adequate general council meeting, give tribal members an opportunity to confirm a grievance committee, allow for the filing of complaints and set forth grievance proceedings in the manner in which they existed in 1993.
Further in his order issued Monday, Wantland denied a tribally led motion to recuse himself from the case in which attorneys said he issued a “pre-judgement” and denied due process.
Wantland wrote in his order that “(Recusal) would be proper where parties are entitled to notice and an opportunity to be heard in opposition. Where this does not apply, as in the case of mandamus under Oklahoma law, the section of the Code of Judicial Conduct cited (in defendents’ motion to recuse) would not apply.”
“Because the writ of mandamus will order Chief Spicer to call a meeting with purposes that are clearly contrary to tribal law and the constitution, we are confident that we will ultimately prevail and the writ will be overturned on appeal,” said tribal attorney Thomas Hayde.
Hayde indicated Monday that the motion for a writ is part of an ongoing effort by a “small group of people” opposed to Chief Spicer’s leadership who are trying to determine how the tribe is run.
“Chief Spicer has fought at every turn of this ongoing battle to ensure that major decisions are put to a vote of the tribe’s entire general council, which numbers close to 3,000 members, who live all across the nation and globe,” Hayde said. “The opposition group has used a campaign of misinformation to gather support among local tribal members. A major theme of their campaign involves baseless allegations that Chief Spicer has misappropriated tribal monies. These allegations are completely untrue, and the tribe’s grievance committee has determined that the grievance the opposition keeps trying against Chief Spicer is without merit.”
As a result, according to Hayde, those opposing the chief’s leadership are now seeking to kick out the existing grievance committee and “elect replacements that will rubber-stamp” the grievance against Spicer.
“To do that, they want to ignore tribal law and the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection of the law.,” Hayde said. “They want a meeting that only local Seneca-Cayuga members are notified of and do not want every member of the general council to get a vote.”
Attorneys for two tribal officials — Second Chief Katie Birdsong and secretary/treasurer Kay Crow-Ellison, who sit at the center of a controversy that has divided the tribe since June of this year — contend that it is an informed group of tribal members, numbering in excess of 200, who are questioning the actions of Spicer.
“Chief Spicer’s efforts to prevent the peaceful assembly of the general council have been extraordinary,” attorney Scott Edwards said. “In the past months he has passed unconstitutional laws, created his own court, hired his own judge, Karl Jones, expended hundreds of thousands of dollars on attorneys to prevent the lawful convening of the legislature i.e. general council.”