Winnebago secure temporary restraining order against Kansas

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TOPEKA, Kan. -- U.S. District Judge Dale Saffels issued a Temporary Restaining Order that prevents the state of Kansas from pursuing any further actions against the Winnebago Tribe, Ho-Chunk Inc. and HCI Distribution in an attempt to collect state motor fuel taxes. The tribes argue that the state's forcible attempt to levy taxes violates their sovereignty and the U. S. Constitution.

The Winnebago Tribe, Ho-Chunk, Inc., HCI Distribution and individual defendants along with three Kansas tribes asked the federal court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the state of Kansas.

Judge Saffels ordered the state to cease enforcing any provision of the Kansas Motor Fuel Tax Act against the Winnebago, Sac and Fox, Iowa and Kickapoo Tribes.

The state will not be allowed to seize any more property owned by any of the tribes to leverage the collection of motor fuel taxes.

Criminal charges by the state against John Blackhawk, chairman of the Winnebago Tribe, and Lance Morgan, executive director of Ho-Chunk Inc., are to stop until such time as the court will rule on the preliminary injunction. The request for a preliminary injunction, the next step in restraining the allegedly illegal actions of the Kansas state officials, is also part of the lawsuit.

Blackhawk and Morgan were scheduled to appear in state court on June 5 to answer to criminal charges of withholding $1.25 million in motor fuel taxes the state is attempting to collect on HCI for distributing motor fuels to the three Kansas tribes.

The Winnebago Tribe and the other plaintiffs convinced the court that irreparable harm would come to the tribe and HCI Distribution and the other individual plaintiffs if the Temporary Restraining Order were not granted. Other criteria for granting the TRO were also met by the plaintiffs, Judge Saffels ruled.

The judge wrote in his ruling that further litigation will be needed to determine other aspects of the case.

"Without directly addressing the merits of plaintiffs' arguments, the court finds plaintiffs have shown that the issues presented are so serious, substantial, difficult, and doubtful as to make them fair ground for litigation," Judge Saffels wrote.

The next phase of the litigation process will be started with a hearing scheduled for June 12 to present arguments and evidence on the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction against Kansas.