NEW HAVEN, Conn. - In a dramatic new turn in the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation's appeal of the BIA's reversal of its federal acknowledgement, tribal lawyers have accused state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of intimidating and retaliating against a high-level former BIA official who is willing to testify about the ''mistreatment'' the tribe's petition for federal recognition received.
STN attorney Thomas J. Murphy of Cowdery, Ecker & Murphy in Hartford, has asked U.S. District Court Senior Judge Peter Dorsey to issue a ruling of contempt and sanctions against Blumenthal and others responsible for divulging the contents of a sealed motion and an accompanying motion to keep the contents sealed that the tribe filed May 3.
In a May 23 filing, Blumenthal revealed that STN's sealed motion asks the court's permission to take testimony from former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Aurene Martin and outlines some of the statements Martin would make under oath.
The court had not yet acted on STN's request to keep its motion sealed.
If allowed to testify, Martin's most potentially damaging statements would be about accompanying Interior Solicitor David Bernhardt to the White House to discuss STN's petition with then-director of Domestic Policy Margaret Spellings (now secretary of education) and others; additional White House visits by Bernhardt and other Interior officials; and Bernhardt's increasingly active role in recognition decisions in 2005, when STN's acknowledgement was reversed.
Martin testified in writing last July that the tribe's petition was ''among the best and most thoroughly researched petition ever reviewed by the BIA.''
The tribe's appeal of the BIA's unprecedented reversal in October 2005 of its own previous decision to recognize the tribe names several Interior officials as defendants and alleges violations of due process, unlawful political influence and congressional interference. The tribe's opponents also included an anti-Indian citizens group called TASK and its high-powered, White House-connected, Republican lobbyist Barbour, Griffith and Rogers. BGR is sued for unlawful interference in the tribe's recognition process a separate lawsuit pending in Washington Superior Court.
Blumenthal's motion prompted a flurry of filings on May 24 and 25.
Murphy called Blumenthal's action ''arrogant'' and ''a remarkable display of hubris'' that ''flagrantly violated'' the court's rules concerning sealed motions.
''The invervenors [represented by Blumenthal] went out of their way to undermine the purpose of the Petitioner's sealing request. They effectively stripped from the Court the right to decide the Petitioner's Motion to File Under Seal. Their conduct smacks of a punitive effort to ensure precisely what the Petitioner sought to avoid - intimidation of, and retaliation against, Aurene Martin for her willingness to come forward to discuss the mistreatment of the tribe's recognition decision,'' Murphy wrote.
The tribe's motion for contempt and sanctions ''is itself a remarkable display of hubris,'' Blumenthal shot back.
''Plaintiff believes that simply filing its own motion under seal and nothing more, they have themselves 'ruled' that everyone else must follow suit,'' Blumenthal said. The tribe should have filed another motion requiring the parties to file their oppositions under seal, he added.
However, apparently disagreeing with Blumenthal's interpretation of the sealing rule, Justice Department attorneys defending Interior officials filed two responses under seal May 24.
Blumenthal told Indian Country Today that all court filings are ''rightfully'' open to the public unless sealed by the court.
''Our belief is that this file should continue to be open and public because citizens need and deserve to know the work of our courts and the proceedings in cases that may affect them. We will continue to advocate that this file be opened, despite unfounded efforts by opponents,'' Blumenthal said.
STN lawyers declined to comment; but in a filing May 25, Murphy dismissed Blumenthal's argument ''favoring open government'' as ''a red herring [that] has obviously been hauled out by the invervenors as a disingenuous, post-hoc effort to rationalize their actions,'' since they never opposed the tribe's motion to file under seal in the first place.''
Murphy asked the court for a hearing ''to determine who is responsible for usurping its decision-making power.''
Blumenthal asked the court to dismiss STN's request and instead issue a schedule for final briefs and a summary judgment.