SACRAMENTO, Calif. - After a tough few weeks that included a major police
raid on their reservation, the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians scored a
big victory in federal court over the ordered closure of their Shodakai
Casino. A federal court judge issued a preliminary injunction against the
National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) that allows the tribe to operate
At issue is a tribal gaming compact with the state of California that had
been held up by the tribe over what the tribe had viewed as infringements
on their sovereignty. The tribe had been part of the original group of
tribes that agreed to a compact with the state and listed among the
original groups in legislation that was approved by the California state
However, the tribe ultimately rejected the compact and sued the state
claiming bad faith negotiations. In 2000 the courts allowed the tribe to
keep their casino open until all appeals had been exhausted and last
February the tribe lost its final appeal and was ordered to have a new
compact by April 30.
Coyote Valley entered into negotiations with the state and though they did
not have a compact by the appointed date, the tribe did finally agree to
the terms of the 1999 compacts in early April, several weeks before the
deadline. However, the California Attorney General's office rejected the
deal, something that attorneys for the tribe claim that only the state
legislature can do.
The federal judge in this case, Caludia Wilkens, acknowledged in her
decision that the tribe had been tardy in coming to terms with the state by
admonishing the tribe to come to an agreement.
The latest ruling allows the tribe to have 60 days in which to come to
terms with the state and Judge Wilkens has also ordered the tribe to stick
as closely to the terms of the 1999 compacts as possible.
After the judge's decision in this case, the tribe has two choices. One is
to get the state to validate the 1999 agreement or come up with an entirely
The federal government, through the NIGC, had ordered Coyote Valley to shut
its doors in early June on the grounds that they were in violation of
federal law for not operating under a compact with the state.
The result was a United States Attorney-ordered police raid on the tribe
that included more than 100 police officers at several locations in which
at least a dozen individuals, including the tribal chairwoman and some
tribal elders, were held for several hours. No charges against individuals
were ultimately issued but the casino was shut down shortly afterward.
The United States Attorney's Office in San Francisco, which had ordered the
raid refused comment on the case. They did say that there were no further
outstanding charges against the tribe.
Attorney Conly Schulte, of Monteau and Peebles worked on the case for
Coyote Valley. He said that the simplest thing to do is for the tribe to
just negotiate a new compact.
One potential obstacle is that there has been a change of governors in
California since the 1999 agreements. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed in
his campaign last year to get tribes to pay a greater share of revenue to
the state and he recently did just that.
Schwarzenegger came to terms with five tribes that allow them expanded
gaming operations in return for the tribes giving something roughly in the
neighborhood of 18 percent of their earnings to the state's general fund,
something that was not called for in the 1999 compacts.
Both versions of the compacts, however, require payments into two other
funds; one for non-gaming tribes and tribes with small operations, and the
other for local impacts caused by casino construction.
Since the tribe is still in negotiations with the state, and those
negotiations are done in private, it is unclear whether the governor's key
negotiator David Kolkey will allow the tribe to abide by the rules of the
1999 compacts or whether he will insist on the new formula of last week's
Schulte did not give any immediate details of the negotiations but said
that they were progressing very well.
"We're encouraged by the discussions with the state so far," said Schulte
who also said that he was optimistic that a deal would be reached with the
Judge Wilkens also cited the potential hardships placed on the casino work
force of some 240 individuals, making the tribal casino one of the largest
employers in Mendocino County, one of the poorest counties of the state.
"We are relieved that Judge Wilkens understands that closing the casino
would have a devastating impact on members of the tribe, casino employees
and our local community," said Coyote Valley chairwoman Pricilla Hunter in
a press statement.
Hunter also said in the statement that she looks forward to forging a new
relationship with the state and NIGC in what she termed a "more productive