KBIC Tribal Court dismisses constitutional challenge

BARAGA – A lawsuit attempting to force the KBIC Tribal Council to follow a constitutional provision requiring tribal referendums to spend more than $10,000 has been dismissed, and plaintiff Eddy Edwards has been ordered to pay $5,000 toward the legal costs of defendants.

Tribal Council member Edwards had sued eight other members of the council who voted to do away with a referendum process set up in 2014 to manage referendums, seeking to invalidate the new ordinance and restore the referendums. Tribal Chief Judge Bradley Dakota ruled the defendants were protected by sovereign immunity, however, as they were “acting within the scope of their duties” voting for and following the new law.

The defendants in the case were council members Jennifer Misegan, Toni Minton, Susan LaFernier, Doreen Blaker, Randal Haataja, Michael LaFernier, Gary Loonsfoot Sr. and Don Messer Jr.

Dakota chided Edwards in the Feb. 4 ruling both for lodging the case after voting himself for at least two more-than-$10,000 expenditures in the last year, and for arguing against the application of sovereign immunity when he himself had been protected by immunity in a 2014 case involving Edwards’ and then-Council President Don Shalifoe Sr.’s suspension of tribal judges – including Dakota.

Dakota also ordered that Edwards pay $5,000 toward defendants’ legal expenses, noting the court case itself created a tribal expenditure over $10,000 not approved by tribal members.

He wrote that “while Mr. Edwards may not have actually authorized those expenses, he surely helped create them by the filing of a frivolous law suit.”

Dakota also noted that if Edwards had hired a lawyer instead of representing himself, much of the expense could likely have been avoided.

In the fact-finding portion of his ruling, Dakota also noted the 2015 change in tribal code eliminating $10,000-spending referendums acknowledged the constitutional issue and committed to addressing it through an attempt to amend the constitution.

An amendment that would create a new $500,000 limit to council spending without referendum approval has been passed by the council and will soon be headed to a Secretarial Election for full tribal approval. Changes to the KBIC constitution also need to be reviewed by the federal Department of the Interior.

Edwards, who said in an October article he didn’t believe efforts to amend the constitution were valid reasons to ignore it in the meantime, wrote that he was disappointed but not surprised by the ruling.

“I believe the judge totally misconstrued the issue at hand,” he wrote in an email. “The judge believes that by not holding popular referendums the council is acting within the scope of its authority. It was an expected ruling from an employee of the tribal council.”