Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals ruling on Russell Begaye's presidential candidacy appealed

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — An appeal of the decision made by a lower tribal court affirming Russell Begaye's presidential candidacy has been filed with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court.

An attorney for former presidential candidate Myron McLaughlin filed the appeal on Wednesday in Window Rock, Ariz. The appeal requests that the Supreme Court review the Nov. 24 decision by the Office of Hearings and Appeals that determined Begaye was qualified to run for the presidency.

The appeal also states that Chief Hearing Officer Richie Nez was not qualified to preside over the case.

McLaughlin's Oct. 31 complaint challenged Begaye's qualifications to run for the presidency and alleged that he did not maintain an "unswerving loyalty" to the tribe through his service as a shareholder representative for the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co.

It also accused Begaye of using company funds to pay for legal expenses in a federal lawsuit against five members of the company's board of directors and for receiving reimbursements from the company.

According to the appeal, after the decision was made, it was "disclosed" to McLaughlin that Nez did not meet the requirements under Navajo law to rule on the matter.

It further states that the section of tribal law explaining the organization and staffing of the Office of Hearings and Appeals says that hearing officers "shall be" attorneys licensed to practice law in Navajo courts and state licensed attorneys either in Arizona, New Mexico or Utah.

The appeal says that Nez is not listed as an active member in any of those states' bar association directories.

Nez could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Personnel from each of the state bar associations could not locate Nez's name in their active membership lists on Thursday and a call to the Navajo Nation Bar Association was not returned by deadline.

Nez earned a law degree from the University of Denver Law School and has practiced exclusively on the Navajo Nation, including operating a legal office, according to a biography from the 2013 Navajo Nation Law Continuing Legal Education Conference at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.

In addition to the appeal, McLaughlin's attorney on Tuesday also filed a motion with the Office of Hearings and Appeals to vacate the Nov. 24 decision and have a new trial.

Begaye, the Shiprock Chapter delegate on the Navajo Nation Council, along with delegates Mel R. Begay, Leonard Tsosie, Charles Damon II and Kenneth Maryboy were appointed as Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co. shareholder representatives.

On Nov. 26, the council passed legislation to appoint 10 delegates as shareholder representatives.

Appointed were: Alton Joe Shepherd and Elmer Begay from the Law and Order Committee; Leonard Tsosie and Roscoe Smith from the Resources and Development Committee; Mel R. Begay and Danny Simpson from the Budget and Finance Committee; Dwight Witherspoon and Walter Phelps from the Health, Education and Human Services Committee; and Nelson BeGaye and Katherine Benally from the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee.

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