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News Release

Big Fire Law & Policy Group LLP

On Friday, February 18, 2022, the Superior Court of Tehama County dismissed a lawsuit brought by a faction of the Greenville Rancheria against its duly elected Chairwoman Angela Martin on the grounds that the County Court had no jurisdiction to hear an intra-tribal leadership dispute. The lawsuit was originally filed in October 2021 after Chairwoman Martin and other tribal citizens sought information related to alleged election abuses by the tribal government during the June 2021 tribal election. Citizens were concerned that both candidates’ and voters’ rights had been deliberately violated in an effort to solidify power within a certain faction.

When officials in the tribal government did not provide answers that satisfied the group and would not cooperate with Chairwoman Martin’s request for access to tribal documents, Chairwoman Martin and a group of tribal citizens engaged in a sit-in at the Tribal building in Red Bluff, California. A faction of the Tribal Council subsequently suspended Chairwoman Martin and filed a lawsuit in Tehama County Court seeking a Temporary Restraining Order banning Chairwoman Martin and other tribal citizens from the Red Bluff tribal building, alleging that their peaceful protest prevented members from accessing the tribal offices and health clinic housed in the tribal building. The Complaint filed in the lawsuit focused upon the disagreement between the tribal government and the defendants over the June 2021 election and challenged Angela Martin’s authority as Chairwoman under tribal law

On November 25, 2021, Chairwoman Martin and the Greenville citizens filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit through their attorneys from Big Fire Law and Policy Group LLP. The motion to dismiss echoed concerns initially raised by the County Court itself. This dispute was an intra tribal dispute based on tribal law. Under binding U.S. Supreme Court precedent, neither state courts nor federal courts have jurisdiction to hear intra-tribal disputes. Allowing a state court to hear such a dispute violates tribal sovereignty. 

On February 18, 2022, the County Court heard oral arguments on the motion to dismiss. The Greenville Rancheria Tribal Council faction was represented by Greg Narvaez of Peebles Kidder LLP. Chairwoman Martin and the Greenville citizens were represented by Nicole Ducheneaux of Big Fire Law & Policy Group LLP. The County Court heard over an hour of argument and at the end of the hearing dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety. The County Court ruled that, although the Greenville Tribal Council’s lawsuit was styled as a trespass action, it really required the State court to decide an intra-tribal leadership dispute, which would have violated the Greenville Rancheria’s sovereignty. For that reason, the County Court did not have jurisdiction.

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Chairwoman Martin commented: “The sitting Tribal Council is to blame for this dispute. Our constituents had legitimate questions about how the tribal government conducted the 2021 election. They were upset that the Tribal Council and the tribe’s lawyer banned certain tribal members from running for office and voting in the election based on provisions of a tribal election ordinance we haven’t even been allowed to see. When I tried to get answers, as the duly elected tribal Chairwoman, I was stonewalled, banned from tribal offices, and then illegally suspended. Then the Tribal Council ran to the County Court and tried to get an illegal ruling that violated our sovereignty and propped up their power-grab.” 

Former Greenville Tribal Chairwoman Angela Timmons further commented: “The sitting Tribal Council is abusing their power. This tribe has laws that protect the right to vote. This tribe has laws that say how and when elected officials can be suspended or removed. The tribal Council took an oath to uphold our laws, but they’re breaking them. They have prohibited Angela Martin from serving as Chairwoman and they have never given her hearing or followed any laws for suspension or removal. This Tribal Council is treating our tribe like a dictatorship, trying to keep power among a specific group of people. I’m scared that from here we will move on to disenrollments. It’s terrifying. That’s why the citizens are standing up now.”

Former Greenville Tribal Chairman Douglas Mullen offered further explanation: “The actions of this Tribal Council are concerning, but what they have forgotten is that the ultimate authority of this tribe comes from the citizens, like us – not the Tribal Council. We gave them the power they are abusing today and we can take it away. There are four sitting Tribal Council members and there are 160 tribal citizens. The Tribal Council makes a big mistake when they ignore the will of the Greenville people.”

With regard to the Court case, Chairwoman Martin’s and the other tribal citizens’ attorney, Nicole Ducheneaux, further explained: “The U.S. Supreme Court, the California federal courts, and the California state courts have long held that state courts simply don’t have jurisdiction to rule on internal matters of an Indian tribe. These questions are solely within the authority of tribes themselves because they are functions of tribes’ inherent sovereignty. Frankly, it was shocking to me that the Greenville Tribal Council attempted to force the state court to invade tribal sovereignty in this case. By way of comparison, the Tribal Council’s lawsuit would be like if the United States had gone to a Canadian or a Russian court to resolve the 2000 Bush-Gore election. That would not only have been illegal, but outrageous, as it is here. In addition, the scaremongering the Tribal Council is engaging in with regard to these citizens is crazy. I have spent time with these peaceful activists, who are upstanding members of this community and mainly tribal elders and women. Allegations that they are intimidating and dangerous are ridiculous.”

Former Tribal Councilwoman Candee Smith also stated about the Court case: “This is an awesome and extremely important victory for Greenville Rancheria tribal members, as our constitutional and sovereign rights were at stake. It’s disturbing how this Tribal Council, consisting of two sisters, continually misuse Rancheria resources against its own tribal members. This council’s actions have been in question since our 2021 tribal election. Any tribal member that submitted concerns about the election or the election committee to the Tribal Council instead received a letter from the Peebles Kidder Law Firm stating our concerns were baseless. This is when they began using lawyers against tribal members rather than addressing concerns first hand, which they agreed to do by taking a Tribal Council seat.”

Tribal elder Betty Barlese concluded: “This tribe was terminated in the 1950s and our whole community fought for restoration. We didn’t have that fight so we could make a joke of our sovereignty abusing power and running to the County Court to handle our problems. We didn’t have that fight so we could turn our backs on our culture by ignoring the will of the Greenville people. I support Chairwoman Martin. I want justice.” 

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