Last week, Nooksack Tribal Court Chief Judge Ray Dodge filed a libel claim in Whatcom County Superior Court against two Native Americans involved in cases pending before him who have criticized his misuse of the Tribal Court bench.
Elile Adams is a Lummi single mother who Dodge had arrested and jailed on July 30, 2019, after she failed to personally appear before him that month for the nineteenth time in the last two years. Her father George Adams, a Nooksack elder, was brutalized by three Nooksack cops and cited into Dodge’s court for obstruction of justice after asking the police why they were at his home to arrest his daughter that day. Elie had never been arrested before.
The Adamses soon went to Whatcom County Superior Court against Dodge and to tribal news media, which quoted Elile online as saying: “Dodge has made my life a living nightmare.” Meanwhile, after Dodge postponed an August 2019 court appearance for Elile after he learned of a courthouse protest planned by various Nooksack and Lummi Indians, George wrote on Facebook: “Pretend Judge Ray Dodge cancelled ‘court’ today.”
Claiming that these two online comments are false and “proximately cause[d]” him harm, Dodge filed a counterclaim against the Adamses, seeking money damages.
“Having held himself out as a Nooksack public official, tribal members have every right to comment on Ray Dodge’s performance of official duties,” said David Smith, a lawyer at Garvey Schubert & Barer who litigates freedom of speech and tribal member civil rights issues. “Like all other Americans, tribal members enjoy that right.”
The Adamses’ lawyer, Gabriel Galanda, was more blunt: “Dodge’s libel claim is frivolous, and an abuse of state civil process. His transparent ploy is an effort to intimidate our clients and stifle criticism and political dissent. Our clients won’t be silenced.”
Dodge’s persecution of Elile began in late March 2017, when he initiated a civil parenting proceeding against her after she sought a protection order from the Tribal Court against her daughter’s father. Dodge did so despite knowing that he lacked authority to act as Chief Judge under federal law, and also lacked jurisdiction to take any action concerning custody of Elile’s daughter under Washington state law.
Only three months earlier, the U.S. Department of the Interior invalidated all Tribal Court orders issued by Dodge after March 24, 2016. He has not since been federally recognized as a legitimate Tribal Court judge, and his courthouse has been subject to local and national ridicule.
On March 24, 2017, the National Indian Court Judges Association Board of Directors (NAICJA) told Dodge, “NAICJA does not view your Nooksack Tribal Court judicial appointment as valid, explaining that since he “occupied the position of Chief Judge at Nooksack, proceedings do not appear to have been conducted in compliance with ... fundamental tenets of due process at law” or “core tenet[s] of tribal democracy and judicial integrity.”
In April 2018, the Washington State Bar Association said the Nooksack “’justice system’” is “probably not worthy of that description.” In July 2018, U.S. District Court Senior Judge John C. Coughenour called Dodge and his federal civil RICO co-defendants’ “well documented” misbehavior “highly concerning.” Judge Coughenour remarked: “the Court ... does not at all think, as Defendants suggest, that ‘the cloud over the Tribe’ has been removed.”
“Given federal, state, and inter-tribal judicial indictments of Dodge, ‘pretend judge’ is hardly untrue or demonstrably false,” continued Galanda. “Besides, real judges don’t sue litigants appearing in court before them.”
Dodge has now issued no less than twenty orders against Elile, while also presiding over ten related felony counts of custodial interference against her since February 2019, even though her daughter’s husband has not been involved in Dodge's parenting proceeding for many months.
“In reality, the parenting case is Ray Dodge versus Elile Adams, with her five year-old daughter caught in his cross-hairs,” continued Galanda.
Dodge’s obsession with Elile culminated in mid-July 2019, when she could not personally appear before him in the Tribal Court criminal matter because she was away on the Northwest Tribes’ annual Canoe Journey. Her public defender appeared on her behalf but that did not deter Dodge from issuing a criminal warrant for Elile’s arrest for "FTA" (failure to appear), which Nooksack cops executed against her at Dodge's request on July 30.
After the state official who booked Elile into the Whatcom County Jail that day commented that Dodge’s arrest warrant was “bogus” on its face, she spent nearly eight hours in the county jail and its well-documented inhumane conditions before her father bailed her out.
That morning, Nooksack Tribal police officers Francisco Sanchez, Daniel Bennett, and Brandon Farstad arrived to the Adamses’ home on their first day back from Canoe Journey. With Galanda on speakerphone, George asked the officers under what pretext they were there to arrest Elile. Sanchez, Bennett, and Farstad refused to identify themselves by name or badger number before slapping his phone away, kneeing him in the groin, throwing him against a concrete stairway, and placing him in a chokehold. They cited him into Dodge’s courthouse for obstructing justice.
On August 9, 2019, Elile and George sued Dodge for “abuse of judicial process” in Whatcom County, also naming the three Nooksack cops who brutalized George as defendants. In a companion federal court case, Elile sued Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo and Corrections Chief Wendy Jones, seeking a writ of habeas corpus to rectify “her unlawful detention and restraint.”
While Dodge quickly moved to stay the state court matter despite the libel counterclaim to vindicate his reputation, Elfo and Jones are asking the federal court to dismiss the habeas corpus case, pointing the finger at Dodge as “the only party responsible for” Elile’s illegal detention.