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Michigan District Court judge's appointment opposed

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - When a federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit by Citizens Exposing Truth About Casinos, an anti-Indian casino group, against the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi July 3, among the first to congratulate the tribe was Gun Lake Tribe Chairman D.K. Sprague.

''We congratulate the Huron Band for successfully defending its federal rights to conduct gaming,'' Sprague wrote.

But Sprague also had harsh words for CETAC Attorney Robert Jonker, who was nominated last year by President George Bush for a judgeship for the U.S. District Court for Western Michigan.

On July 9, Jonker's nomination was approved by the Senate after a yearlong delay.

Jonker represented CETAC for years in its opposition to the Huron band's casino plans and he also represented TOMAC (Taxpayers of Michigan Against Casinos) and MichGO (Michigan Gambling Opposition) in years of litigation trying to prevent several tribes from exercising their sovereign right to own and operate casinos. Although the groups have lost every case in state and federal courts, MichGO continues to delay Gun Lake's proposed casino with a pending lawsuit against its land-into-trust application.

''Robert Jonker and his law firm have now lost at least seven different state and federal lawsuits. Michigan has been delayed thousands of great jobs and millions of local and state revenue-sharing dollars. The Gun Lake Tribe is calling on Jonker and MichGO to quit harming the citizens of this state by dropping their meritless appeal immediately,'' Sprague said.

Sprague was not alone in his opposition to Jonker, a partner in the Grand Rapids firm of Warner Norcross and Judd LLP.

At its last annual meeting in October 2006, the National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution opposing Jonker's nomination and confirmation.

In a series of ''whereas'' clauses, NCAI said that Jonker, among other things, had:

* led a protracted and costly ''war of attrition'' through the federal and state courts to deny several tribes the ability to pursue economic development under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and to threaten the ongoing gaming operations of two Michigan tribes that employ thousands of Michigan residents;

* disregarded his obligation to bring only ''meritorious claims'' and expedite litigation, and instead used delaying tactics to prolong the resolution of meritless claims;

* defended TOMAC, a group which ''ample evidence'' suggests is supported by Boyd Gaming, a non Native Nevada gambling company that owns Blue Chip Casino, a riverboat operation in nearby Indiana that faces competition from tribal casinos in southwestern Michigan, and whose former owner Kevin Flynn is alleged to have ties to organized crime;

* and is a member of a group called 23 Is Enough, whose interest he represents through his client MichGO, a group that has disseminated information that portrayed Native Americans in ''racist terms, raising serious questions about Mr. Jonker's ethics and fitness to serve as a federal district court judge.''

In addition to NCAI, seven tribes from Michigan, two Wisconsin tribes, and a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission voiced opposition to Jonker's nomination, because of his track record of litigation against Indian tribes and their federal rights to conduct governmental gaming, and his association with groups that are seen as biased against American Indians.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved Jonker's nomination in 2006, but the entire Senate did not vote on the nomination before the end of last year, requiring Bush to resubmit the nominations earlier this year.

At the 2006 hearing, Jonker said he would be able to fairly apply the law in cases involving tribal gaming, if confirmed.

''I believe that one critical characteristics of any judge is the ability to hear and decide the cases that come before the court fairly and impartially based on the record before the court. I believe I have that characteristic,'' Jonker said.

On June 7, the Senate committee again approved Jonker's nomination, and on July 9 the full Senate unanimously appointed him to the bench.