FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation is appealing the Feb. 28 dismissal of a case over the leasing rights of ranch lands.

The Navajo Department of Justice on Friday filed an appeal to Tohajiillee District Court Judge William Platero's dismissal of the case against Loretta Morris, who has leased land north of Crownpoint from the Nation for more than 40 years.

Morris and her husband, Raymond Morris, were outbid last year when the Navajo Department of Agriculture introduced a bid system and auctioned off nearly 350,000 acres of land. The process booted 21 longtime ranchers from their lands.

Ranchers complained when winning bidders agreed to pay more per head and to graze more cattle than the land could support.

The Morrises, along with one other rancher, Farmington resident Justin Yazzie, refused to vacate their land, contending that the bid was conducted improperly and that they previously received approval on lease extensions.

Platero agreed with the defendants last week when he dismissed the case, stating that the method used to award leases to the highest bidders — regardless of who was using and making improvements to the land — was invalid.

The Nation failed to follow its own regulations when it awarded land to high bidders without including the president of the Nation in its final decision, Platero said.

"The ranch code talks about the president making the final decision," said James W. Zion, attorney for the defendants.


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"There is no evidence that the president was involved in the selection of who gets the ranch land."

Navajo justice department attorney Greg Kelly, in his appeal, also asked for Platero's judgment in writing.

Zion, in response to the appeal, has asked the court to grant the defendants $15,000 in attorney fees and other costs.

Alysa Landry:

alandry@daily-times.com