Hearing set for Speaker Naize's restraining order request

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

Window Rock, Ariz. — A hearing has been set to consider a request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that Speaker Johnny Naize filed against 12 members of the Navajo Nation Council and one legislative branch employee.

The request was made after the 12 delegates approved placing Naize on paid administrative leave during a special council meeting on April 4.

Naize considers this action unlawful, improper and invalid, according to court documents.

The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday in Window Rock District Court.

Immediately after placing Naize on administrative leave, delegates voted 12 in favor and none opposed to approve a directive for Council Delegate LoRenzo Bates to serve as pro tem speaker.

"The first thing is the government is still stable. We will work ourselves through this, the government doesn't stop," Bates said. "As speaker pro tem, I won't allow this government to stop. We have to work through these challenges that are facing us today."

Bates represents the Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tsé Daa K'aan and Upper Fruitland chapters.

He is serving his third term on the council and is a member of the Upper Fruitland Chapter.

In an interview at the Office of the Speaker on Monday, Bates said his first day as pro tem speaker was a "learning experience."

He said he arrived to the office at about 7:30 a.m. on Monday then spent the day meeting with staff and members of the Navajo Nation Department of Justice and the Office of Legislative Counsel.

He spoke with the two departments because the circumstance and situation surrounding his appointment are "uncharted waters."

The hearing on Naize's motions was scheduled after District Court Judge Carol Perry reviewed a civil complaint, the request for a temporary restraining order, and an application for preliminary injunction.

Those documents were hand delivered and submitted to the court at about 9:30 a.m. on Monday by Naize's attorney Brian Lewis.

"Based on a review of the pleadings, the court finds there is good cause to deny the temporary restraining order at this time," Perry stated in an order she signed on Monday.

In addition to scheduling the hearing, she also ordered Naize to submit copies of the transcripts from the April 4 special session, the session's audio recordings, and a "true account" of the presence and absence of the members who constituted a quorum and the identities of those who entered and exited the council chamber.

The request for a temporary restraining order was filed against Delegates Alton Joe Shepherd, Bates, Nelson BeGaye, Russell Begaye, Joshua Lavar Butler, Lorenzo Curley, Jonathan Hale, Jonathan Nez, Leonard Pete, Danny Simpson, Leonard Tsosie and Dwight Witherspoon.

The order also names Tom Platero, who is the executive director of the Office of Legislative Services.

The council's vote came after the tribe's special prosecutor in December filed 10 bribery charges and one conspiracy charge against Naize. An additional bribery charge was added in February.

The criminal complaints allege Naize misused the council's discretionary fund, which provided financial assistance to constituents in need.

Shepherd sponsored the bill that called for Naize's removal but it was amended during the special session to place the speaker on administrative leave with pay.

According to the civil complaint, the 12 delegates failed to follow and satisfy Navajo law and the resolution placing Naize on administrative leave is invalid and void.

The civil complaint also alleges that the delegates removed a "naat'áanii," a leader, chosen by the Navajo people and that prevents him from fulfilling his responsibilities as a leader.

Navajo law mandates that the speaker be selected and confirmed by the council, serve at the pleasure of the council, and be a member in good standing.

Shepherd, who sponsored a similar bill in January, proposed the second version after Naize was named a co-conspirator in the complaint against former delegate Raymond Joe, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in connection to abusing the discretionary fund.

Joe said he entered into agreements with Naize to provide financial assistance to his family members.

Twenty of the council's 24 members attended the special session. Of those, 12 voted to place Naize on leave, seven did not vote and Delegate Edmund Yazzie, who served as speaker pro tem during the session, abstained.

The seven who did not vote were George Apachito, Mel Begay, Katherine Benally, Kenneth Maryboy, Naize, Roscoe Smith, and David Tom.

Bates said he would be attending Tuesday's hearing and the outcome would determine what happens next.

In the meantime, he is focused on the work of the legislative branch and keeping it operational.

Bates is the chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee. He said for now vice chairman Jonathan Nez will take over chair responsibilities for the committee.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.