Suspended Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize is getting his day in court and he won’t be alone – literally.
The Navajo Nation Special Prosecutors filed a legal request with the Navajo Nation Window Rock, Ariz., District Court yesterday, April 30, 2014, for a “group” trial of Naize, Resources and Development Committee member Delegate David Tom and former Delegates George Arthur, Leonard Teller and Ernest Yazzie.
All five elected officials are facing multiple criminal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery for their alleged involvement in a “scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back” scheme that stuffed the pockets of their wives, former wives, siblings and even children and grandchildren with tribal money specifically earmarked for the most needy on the Navajo Reservation.
The special prosecutors, which are the private law firm of Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom & Schoeburg of Tempe, Ariz., stated in a press release that the group trials of Naize, Tom, Arthur, Teller and Yazzie would be of financial benefit to the Navajo Nation Judicial system and “protect witnesses.”
The special prosecutors also stated that they will be making additional legal requests to the tribal court for other group trials of remaining defendants, who also have been indicted for bribery.
A single trial would save both time and tens of thousands of dollars in court expenses, jury fees and prosecutor fees and it protect the Navajo Nation’s witnesses from having to testify at multiple trials, the special prosecutors stated.
They noted that the Navajo Nation Supreme Court approved the practice of holding one trial for coconspirators when it considered similar bribery charges against elected officials.
According to the special prosecutors, the witnesses are “numerous current and former” delegates, who have “come forward” to testify “truthfully about their own exchanges with one or more of more members of the five delegates – Naize, Tom, Arthur, Teller and Yazzie.
I have requested a copy of the Special Prosecutors’ motion for a group trial of the five elected officials and will post it as soon as I receive a copy.
And the latest news on Naize’s legal request to the Window Rock District Court for a restraining order against the 12 Council delegates that voted “yes” to put him on paid leave on April 4, 2014, and the single legislative employee who processed the Council’s legislation that put Naize on paid leave is that Judge Carol Perry is asking Naize, the 12 delegates and tribal employee to provide her with additional evidence.
Judge Perry issued an “order to submit” yesterday, April 30, 2014, that asked for “clarification” on whether or not Naize was allowed to vote on the Council’s legislation that place him on paid leave on April 4, 2014.
Perry noted that she was aware that 12 other delegates, including Naize, did not vote on April 4, 2014.
I was at the Council’s special session on April 4, 2014, when Naize and Delegates Katherine Benally, George Apachito, Roscoe Smith, Mel Begay, and David Tom walked out of the special session just before the Council voted to place Naize on paid leave because the 12 criminal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery filed against him by the special prosecutors cost him as “good standing” qualification to be speaker.
I was also at the Council session, when the Council debated Legislation 0003-14, which was for the removal of Naize as speaker for the loss of his good standing qualification. And when the Council voted on removal, Naize was allowed to vote. He voted “no” with 11 other delegates against 12 delegates that voted “yes.” But the legal requirement for removal of a speaker by a super majority vote of the Council was not met by 4 votes.
And during both Council meetings, Naize was allowed to speak in his defense and remain in the Council chamber to listen to the debate.
Judge Perry stated in his April 30 order that she had planned to issue her decision on Naize’s petition for a preliminary restraining order on Friday, May 2, but then she realized after reviewing the evidence and testimony that she needed additional evidence.
Perry ordered that the additional evidence be submitted to her by Monday, May 5, 2014.
The following is the official press release from the special prosecutors.
Special Prosecutor for the Navajo Nation
Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom & Schoenburg, LLP
80 East Rio Salado Parkway, Suite 710
Tempe, Arizona 85281
SPECIAL PROSECUTOR NEWS RELEASE
APRIL 30, 2014
SPECIAL PROSECUTOR SEEKS GROUP TRIALS TO SAVE NAVAJO NATION JUDICIAL SYSTEM MONEY AND TO PROTECT WITNESSES
The Navajo Nation Special Prosecutor has filed a request with the District Court to hold a single trial for the criminal complaints against five former and current Council Delegates. All five are charged with bribery stemming from abuses of the Tribal Financial Assistance Funds. The Prosecutor’s Motion describes how a single trial will save both time and money and protect the witnesses who are assisting the Navajo Nation from having to testify at multiple trials.
The Special Prosecutor has asked the Court to try Johnny Naize, George Arthur, Leonard Teller, David Tom and Ernest Yazzie at a single trial. The Prosecutor’s Motion describes how each of the five in the group had an unlawful arrangement with one or more of the other five to exchange thousands of dollars in Financial Assistance Funds to benefit their own friends and relatives. At the same time, numerous current and former delegates have come forward to assist the Navajo Nation in the prosecutions by testifying truthfully about their own exchanges with one or more members of the group of five. By grouping these five defendants, these witnesses would only be required to testify once instead of making multiple appearances in separate trials. Just as important as described in the Motion, combining the five for one trial would save tens of thousands of dollars in court expenses, jury fees, and prosecutor fees.
The Prosecutor seeks to join for trial the bribes exchanged between David Tom and Ernest Yazzie; bribes exchanged between Johnny Naize and George Arthur; bribes exchanged between Johnny Naize and Leonard Teller; and bribes exchanged between Johnny Naize and David Tom.
The Motion lists three former elected officials who are providing substantial assistance to the Navajo Nation by describing their own financial assistance exchanges with one or more of the group of five. The Motion seeks to avoid the necessity of calling these and other similar witnesses to numerous separate trials.
As described in the Motion, the practice of holding one trial for coconspirators was previously approved by the Navajo Supreme Court when it considered similar bribery charges against elected officials. The Special Prosecutor’s Motion also indicated that it will soon propose additional groupings for remaining defendants who are also facing bribery charges. The request by the Prosecutor is directed at preserving the resources of the justice system and preventing undue hardship to the delegate witnesses who are providing assistance to the Navajo Nation through their testimony.
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