RIVERTON — After the majority faction of the Northern Arapaho Business Council waged a nearly one-year lawsuit against its former law firm for withheld funds, a judge ruled this week that the contested $1 million had been returned to the tribal entity before their complaint was filed.
So conveyed Wyoming District Court Judge Thomas Campbell in a Monday filing. The filing orders the tribal governing body to dismiss its July 29, 2019 allegation that its former law firm, Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd, had wrongfully retained $1 million in tribal funds when the tribe cut relations with it.
“It is clear on the record to date that the factual underpinnings of that claim could not have been accurate on the date it was plead,” wrote the judge, adding that “a representative of the tribe’s finance office had inspected the trust ledgers and confirmed that all the tribal funds… had been returned to the tribe” even before the NABC filed its complaint claiming the funds hadn’t been returned.
For the majority four members of the business council – Chairman Lee Spoonhunter, and members Clarinda Callingthunder, Stephen Fasthorse, and Kim Harjo – to file that claim was what Campbell deemed “not proper.” The judge called the accusation an “inflammatory allegation of misuse or withholding of $1,000,000 in tribal funds (which was) without evidentiary support. This is particularly true where the evidence was easily at hand at the time the complaint was filed.”
Besides having to dismiss the accusation from its lawsuit, the NABC majority faction also must pay all of BCR’s attorney’s fees relating to that motion.
Other elements of the suit may be settled via arbitration. Normally the tribe cannot be sued in court due to sovereign immunity of tribes from legal action, but in its contract with BCR, the tribe gave up some of its immunity to arbitration settlements.
Although it cannot be sued without an express waiver of sovereign immunity, the tribe can sue other entities in court.
NABC Co-Chairman Al Addison and member Samuel Dresser did not agree to the lawsuit against BCR, which was propelled by the majority faction.
In an open letter to Co-Chairman Addison dated May 19, 2020, the majority faction of the NABC wrote that they had “been forced to sue our former attorneys (BCR) to recover any and all funds held by them.” They then accused Addison of excessive loyalty to BCR, and demanded Addison to facilitate the return of the $1 million that Judge Campbell would later rule had not been withheld by BCR in the first place.
Addison dispatched an undated response, addressed only to Chairman Spoonhunter, calling the May 19 letter “another example of your continued dishonesty, lack of integrity, and your failure of leadership.”
He then accused the majority of depleting tribal funds.
NABC majority faction spokesman Matthew Benson spoke with The Ranger Tuesday. When asked where the missing $1 million had gone, Benson said he would ask tribal authorities and respond as soon as he could.
Unofficial sources reported to The Ranger that Addison was denied access to Wind River Hotel and Casino banking statements from spring of 2020 by members of the majority faction – bank statements that could shed light on the whereabouts of the missing $1 million.
In a separate lawsuit, the minority NABC faction of Addison and Dresser are suing the panel’s new law firm Kilpatrick, Townsend, & Stockton, on the allegation that the firm exerted excessive political control over the Wind River Hotel and Casino, an autonomous entity in day-to-day management according to Northern Arapaho gaming codes.
The majority faction countered that it was improper for Addison and Dresser to use tribal funds, paid as legal payments to former casino attorney Joel Vincent, to launch that lawsuit.
The matter has not been adjudicated. However, Vincent was asked by Campbell not to advocate for Dresser and Addison in the suit, as the tribe-versus-tribe nature of the suit forms a conflict of interest for the attorney formerly beholden to the casino.