Tribal judge grants group trial in discretionary fund cases
FARMINGTON — Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry has granted the Navajo Nation special prosecutor's request to hold a group trial for current and former tribal council delegates charged in the discretionary fund cases.
Perry issued her two-page decision on Tuesday. In April, the special prosecutor filed a motion asking to try Speaker Johnny Naize, current delegate David L. Tom and former delegates George Arthur, Leonard Teller and Ernest D. Yazzie Jr. in a single trial.
Each one has been charged with bribery for allegedly providing $268,350 to family members from the council's discretionary fund and for developing a back-and-forth system to receive funding.
The discretionary fund was established to allow delegates to provide financial assistance to tribal members facing emergency situations or financial hardship.
In her decision, Perry explained the court continues to face financial barriers in conducting individual trials.
"Currently, the court is largely persuaded by its inability to finance separate criminal trials," she wrote, adding there is no allocation in the present district court budget to pay for separate trials.
She also cited a March 2011 opinion and order by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court that directs the district court to find a workable solution to manage the adjudication of the criminal charges, including consolidating and holding joint trials for defendants in cases when any single conspiracy charge is shared.
A statement from the special prosecutor — the law firm of Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom, Schoenburg and Bienvenu of Tempe, Ariz. — said the attorneys are pleased the court granted the motion.
"Holding a single trial for five defendants will allow the court to resolve the criminal charges in a timely manner," according to the statement.
Attorney Samuel Pete, who is representing Tom, said his client received a copy of the decision Tuesday evening.
"Only thing we can say is Mr. Tom is disappointed with the ruling," Pete said. "However, he looks forward to the jury trial and looks forward to being exonerated."
Arthur's and Naize's lawyer, Troy Eid, could not be reached for comment. Contact information for Teller and Yazzie was not available.
In the April motion, the special prosecutor outlined the reasons why joint trials are necessary. The reasons listed included saving the tribe time and money because the cases involve the same conspiracies, the same types of charges or share common witnesses.
At the July 18 hearing on the motion, attorney Marc Lowry, who represents the special prosecutor, argued conducting separate trials would create a lottery system in which the first defendant tried would face the most risk, and defendants could develop a stronger defense after each case is tried.