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Judge: Clerk falsified complaint against Navajo candidate

in Breaking News

By BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A judge who ordered a Utah county to put a Navajo man back on the ballot has determined the county clerk violated state law by improperly dating the residency complaint and by overstepping his role.

U.S. District Judge David Nuffer said in his written decision filed Thursday night that Democrat Willie Grayeyes’ rights were violated when San Juan County Clerk John Nielson falsified the complaint by dating it about a month earlier than when it was finalized to “make a backdoor challenge.”

Nuffer said Nielson “overstepped his role by taking on a prosecutorial role; an investigative role; and directing Ms. Black (the complainant) to complete a voter challenge.” Nuffer first announced his decision in a hearing Tuesday.
Grayeyes sued after he was disqualified as a candidate for county commission when county officials determined he didn’t live in the district. Judge Nuffer didn’t rule on the residency question.

Back on the ballot, Grayeyes will have a chance to tip the scales of the county’s power in favor of Democrats and Navajos if he can defeat his Republican challenger in November for a spot on the three-person commission. The other two spots were won at primaries: one by a Republican and one by a Democrat, raising the stakes in Grayeyes’ race.

It is the first election since a judge ruled local voting districts were illegally drawn based on race, and the latest court clash between Navajos and Republican county leaders over voting and election issues in the remote southeastern Utah county. The Navajo Nation overlaps with San Juan County and stretches into Arizona and New Mexico. Many people in the remote areas travel frequently for work and collect their mail across state lines.

Nielson declined comment. His attorney, Blake Hamilton, acknowledged in a statement that the backdating was a “serious lapse in judgment” but said it “had no outcome on the residency challenge.”

Hamilton said it was the first residency challenge Nielson had dealt with in his three years in the post and that he followed his predecessor’s practice of contacting the sheriff’s office to launch an investigation. Nielson backdated the complaint because he thought it was simply formalizing the date of when Wendy Black first tried to file the complaint a month earlier. Nielson later learned she had to fill out a form, Hamilton said.

He added that all of Nielson’s children identify as Navajo and that it has “pained him to witness firsthand the discrimination that they have faced.” His ex-wife, who he was married to for 15 years, is Navajo, Nielson said during questioning by Grayeyes’ attorney in July, court records show. Hamilton didn’t explain if Nielson’s kids were facing discrimination because of his involvement in this case or just because they’re Navajos.

Hamilton didn’t say if the county would appeal.

Grayeyes’ attorney, Steven Boos, said the mistakes can’t be washed away by Nielson’s alleged inexperience. Boos said Nielson has worked for years properly dating documents, with previous experience at a bank.

“The county took away some fundamental, constitutional rights from Mr. Grayeyes without following the law and Judge Nuffer has set that right,” Boos said. “He (Nielson) has shown that not only is he not trustworthy, but that he was willing to do things that he knew were wrong.”

Navajo Nation leaders have condemned the Grayeyes probe, but county officials say it isn’t related to politics or race. Their report found that neighbors and his sister told a sheriff’s deputy he lives primarily in Tuba City, Arizona, and he gave conflicting statements.

Grayeyes says he’s lived and been registered to vote in San Juan County for decades. They argue he was targeted because new, court-ordered voting districts could help more Navajos get elected.

Boos said this case is the latest example of discrimination against Navajos in the county. Boos said it didn’t help that Grayeyes serves on the board of Utah Diné Bikéyah, a group that supported the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument to protect land that tribes consider sacred and is home to ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.

The creation of the monument by President Barack Obama in 2016 was fiercely opposed by Republican leaders in San Juan County and statewide. President Donald Trump ordered the monument downsized last year.

Black, the woman who lodged the complaint, was a candidate for the same commission seat as Grayeyes but lost at the county GOP convention in April to Kelly Laws, a former city councilman in the county’s largest town of Blanding. His father, Kendall Laws, is the county attorney.

Kendall Laws and Black were both sued by Grayeyes in this lawsuit, but were dismissed from the case.

The Alliance for a Better Utah, a left-leaning government watchdog group, has called for an independent investigation of San Juan County, calling the county’s actions “prime examples of racism at work.”

Justin Lee, Utah’s Director of Elections, said they plan to review Judge Nuffer’s order to determine if the actions by Nielson and the county warrant an investigation by the state attorney general.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby handed down new districts after he decided the county was racially gerrymandered, and the districts were drawn to minimize the voices of Navajo voters, who make up half the electorate. Similar legal clashes have been waged over Native American voting rights in several states.

County leaders are challenging the new districts they say unfairly carve up the county’s largest city of Blanding, about 300 miles (482 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City.

Navajo Nation official pleads not guilty to $6M theft charge

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WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — A Navajo Nation official has been accused of unlawfully transferring $6 million of Ramah Navajo Chapter funds to different investing companies without proper authorization.

Tribal officials say Ramah Navajo Chapter President David Jose was arraigned Monday on three counts of theft. He pleaded not guilty.

A pretrial conference is scheduled for Sept. 10.

Prosecutors say one of the investment companies filed for bankruptcy less than a year after Jose made a $1 million transfer to the company.

The Navajo Nation Department of Justice is seeking to recover those funds in a bankruptcy proceeding.
The Ramah Chapter is located in New Mexico and is part of the Navajo Nation.

Court dismisses challenge to Indian child welfare law

in Breaking News

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A federal appeals court has dismissed a challenge to a law that gives preference to American Indian families in adoptions of Native children.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t rule on the constitutionality of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.
Rather, it dismissed the complaint from a Phoenix-based right-leaning think tank, the Goldwater Institute, saying it’s moot.

The institute had sought to keep two children with ties to the Gila River and Navajo tribes from being removed from their non-Native foster parents.

Those children since have been adopted.

The law firm Akin Gump represented the tribes. Attorney Don Pongrace says the court’s decision is one victory in an ongoing struggle to protect tribal sovereignty.

The Goldwater Institute said Tuesday it will ask the 9th Circuit for a rehearing.

Navajo man gets back on Utah ballot after judge’s ruling

in Breaking News

By BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Navajo man will be put back on the ballot for a Utah county commission seat after a judge sided with him Tuesday in his lawsuit against a county that disqualified him in the first election since a judge ruled local voting districts were illegally drawn based on race.

U.S. District Judge David Nuffer ordered San Juan County to put Willie Grayeyes back on the ballot during a hearing in federal court in Moab, Utah, said Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. He attended the hearing.

Grayeyes sued after he was disqualified for the ballot when county officials investigated a complaint and determined he didn’t live in the district, but primarily in Tuba City, Arizona. The Navajo Nation overlaps with San Juan County and stretches into Arizona and New Mexico. Many people in the remote areas travel frequently for work and collect their mail across state lines.

Grayeyes is running as a Democrat for a seat on the three-person county commission in the remote southeastern Utah county where Navajos and Republican county leaders have clashed for years over voting and election issues.

Lawyers for Grayeyes say he’s lived and been registered to vote there for decades. They argue he was targeted because new, court-ordered voting districts could help more Navajos get elected.

The county said race and politics weren’t involved in the decision.

Grayeyes and his attorney didn’t immediately return phone calls and emails seeking comment Tuesday about the ruling.

A spokeswoman for San Juan County also didn’t immediately return phone call and emails. It’s unknown if the county will appeal and keep fighting to keep Grayeyes off the November ballot.

It’s a shame the county is spending some of its limited resources fighting this issue, Gorman said. There’s a clear pattern by the county making it hard on Navajos to vote, he said.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby handed down new districts after he decided the county was racially gerrymandered to minimize the voices of Navajo voters, who make up half the electorate. Similar legal clashes have been waged over Native American voting rights in several states.

County leaders are challenging the new districts they say unfairly carve up the county’s largest city of Blanding, about 300 miles (482 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City.

Grayeyes serves on the board of Utah Diné Bikéyah, a group that supported the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument to protect land that tribes consider sacred and is home to ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.

The creation of the monument by President Barack Obama was fiercely opposed by Republican leaders in San Juan County and statewide. President Donald Trump ordered the monument downsized last year in a move that pleased state and county leaders.

Navajo Nation Council Pushes back in Remington Deal

in Breaking News

Navajo Nation Council members respond to reports of Remington proposal 

Read Remington bid provides insight into US tribe’s aspirations

WINDOW ROCK– Speaker LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tse’Daa’Kaan, Upper Fruitland) and members of the Budget and Finance Committeeon Wednesday, issued the following statements regarding reports over a proposal submitted for the possible acquisition of Remington – a manufacturer of firearms and ammunition.

Statement from Speaker LoRenzo Bates – 23rdNavajo Nation Council:

“This proposal regarding Remington was brought forth by the Office of the Controller – under the Executive Branch – and presented to the Síhasin Fund Subcommittee, the Budget and Finance Committee, and officials within President Russell Begaye’s Administration. The Controller recommended to initiate discussions with Remington and to begin the due diligence on Navajo involvement.

The President is wrong in his accusations against Council members. In fact, President Begaye’s Administration was directly involved in discussions – whether or not his staff communicated with him is not the problem of the Council, but it is a problem within his own office.”

Statement from Council Delegate Seth Damon – Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee:

“To be clear, there was no discussion or consideration of using funds from the Permanent Trust Fund, as reported. The committee discussed this proposal with the Controller as an economic initiative with the potential of bringing potentially thousands of needed jobs to the Navajo Nation. We have so many people who need and want jobs and that’s what this discussion centered on.”

Statement from Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie – Chair of the Síhasin Fund Subcommittee:

“The Russell Begaye Administration has no economic development plan to bring large scale employment to the Navajo Nation, so the Council and Committees are taking the initiative to discuss possible ventures to help our unemployed Navajo people. The Subcommittee has not had any formal investments on a so-called ‘deal.’ Delegates talk about many different subjects, including Remington. When these matters become legislation, the Navajo public will know.”

Remington bid provides insight into US tribe’s aspirations

in Breaking News

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — Remington management has turned down an offer by one of the largest American Indian tribes in the U.S. to buy the storied gun maker as the company rebuilds itself after emerging from bankruptcy.

The Navajo Nation submitted a bid in May, offering between $475 million and $525 million. The tribe planned to pay cash.

A columnist with The New York Times was first to report on the bid Monday.

The Navajos had proposed shifting away from public consumers to police and defense contracts. Profits would then be invested in research and development of “smart guns” — those outfitted with technology to ensure they can only be used by their owners.

To address high unemployment, Navajo leaders have long sought to bring manufacturing jobs to the reservation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

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