Oglala Attorney General ousted

PINE RIDGE, S.D. - The attorney's license for Richard Erie to practice on the Pine Ridge Reservation has been suspended indefinitely by the same judge who issued the license.

Erie has been acting as attorney general for the tribe since his appointment by the tribal council Feb. 12.

Frank Ecoffey, tribal member, filed a motion in tribal court to disbar Erie because of improper and illegal billing for services to the tribe. Erie followed with a motion to dismiss and a counter claim for damages. Erie's motion and claim were dismissed by Tribal Judge Patrick Lee.

Under the contract with Erie, he was to be paid an hourly rate and expenses that included travel. He was also to be paid mileage based on federal standards and per diem.

On Feb. 22, Erie turned in an itemized bill to the tribal treasurer for $12,986, including line items for mileage, $1,061.00, and for gas, $300.

Erie claimed - under the agreement - he was allowed to charge for mileage and gas reimbursements.

Judge Lee said the billing for mileage and gas constitutes double billing, in violation of the federal rates and Erie's contract.

"An Attorney, as an officer of the court, is held to a higher standard of conduct. Erie is a professional attorney and is bound by the American Bar Association's Code of Professional Responsibility.

"Erie essentially made a judicial admission to overcharging the tribe for travel expenses when he stated in court that he would have conceded if the tribe or the treasurer had objected to his separate billing for mileage and gas," Judge Lee wrote in his ruling.

Judge Lee stated Erie had an ethical responsibility to resolve the doubt in favor of his client. "This he failed to do. His billing constitutes conduct involving either dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation."

The tribal council hired Erie to be attorney general while Vice President Wilbur Between Lodge acted as presiding officer. President Harold Dean Salway was suspended by the council. Between Lodges was not available for comment. Erie could not be reached.

Erie has been escorted off the reservation by members of the Tokala Society of the Grass Roots Oyate group and by Public Safety Officers. The Grass Roots Oyate formed a Grand Council of elders that does not recognize the present tribal council. It passed a resolution that required the Tokala Society to remove Erie from the reservation.