A special judge for the Court of Indian Offenses has ruled that the court has no jurisdiction in election disputes of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe.
The ruling, issued Friday by Judge William Wantland, nullified a resolution ordered by a group of Seneca-Cayuga Tribe members requesting that the court intervene in an ongoing election dispute.
Federal law allows a tribe to prohibit the Court of Indian Offenses from hearing tribal election disputes. The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe, according to tribal officials, did just that.
Additionally, the resolution suffered a second fatal blow after the court agreed that it was initiated from an illegal meeting of the general council.
That meeting was led by Second Chief Katie Birdsong who said she picked up the gavel after Chief Paul Spicer abruptly adjourned the meeting, despite pleas to continue.
Prior to adjournment, Spicer had unofficially retained his position of chief after receiving more than half of the votes of the tribe's membership.
In the days following the meeting, Birdsong said that she did not “re-open” the meeting, but took the lead at the request of the general council. Spicer's motion to adjourn was made and seconded, according to Birdsong, but the second was rescinded.
As the council moved forward, it passed several resolutions, including a motion to allow the Court of Indian Offenses to intervene in tribal election disputes, effectively rescinding the previous resolution to prohibit federal intervention.
It was the intention of Leroy Howard, Patrick Young, Diana Baker, Brenda Chancellor and Linda Turner-Smith, all candidates for elective offices, as well as several other members of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe, that the Court of Indian Offenses hear their complaints against Spicer, to include allegations that the he illegally adjourned the June 2 meeting, forcing the remaining council members to continue the meeting in his absence.
“I did what I though was right for the people of the tribe,” Birdsong said. “I was not trying to be against anybody or take sides. I went on with the meeting because it was the right thing to do.”
According to Spicer, after he adjourned the meeting Birdsong unconstitutionally re-opened the meeting and continued with actions that the “dissident group now uses to legitimize resolutions” passed under their perceived authority.
“The second chief does have the authority to convene a meeting of the general council,” Spicer testified. “But, only in the event of the absence of the chief.”
Spicer said “absence” means “I have either died, am incapacitated, removed from office or have resigned.”
On Friday, Thomas Osterholt, representing Spicer and several other defendants in the case, presented to the court a portion of audio tape from the June 2 meeting as proof that a motion was made to adjourn the meeting of the general council, seconded and passed by a majority voice vote.
In response, Wantland ruled that all actions taken by the general council after the adjournment are not valid, including the resolution passed giving the court jurisdiction to intervene.
The court is scheduled to begin hearing several other complaints filed by members of the tribe at 10 a.m. Aug. 9.