Former Navajo Nation presidential candidate Chris Deschene files motion to get back on the ballot

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — Former presidential candidate Chris Deschene is asking the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals to vacate the order that disqualified his presidential candidacy.

On Monday, Deschene's attorney, Edward Hermes, filed a motion to vacate the Oct. 9 decision made by then Chief Hearing Officer Richie Nez.

Nez issued a default judgment against Deschene that disqualified him as a presidential candidate after he refused to take a test to determine his ability to speak the Navajo language fluently. Under Navajo law, an individual must fluently speak and understand the Navajo language and read and write English to qualify for the presidential office.

Former presidential candidates Dale Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne filed grievances against Deschene accusing him of lying on candidacy paperwork about being able to speak Navajo fluently.

Deschene's motion argues that Nez lacked the authority to preside over and to make a decision in his case because Nez was not qualified to serve as the chief hearing officer.

Nez's qualifications were called into question when former presidential candidate Myron McLaughlin filed an appeal with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court on Dec. 3. That appeal cited the section of Navajo law that mandates the chief hearing officer be a licensed attorney by the Navajo Nation Bar Association and by a state bar association in Arizona, New Mexico or Utah.

While he was licensed under the tribal association, Nez did not have a state bar license.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly removed him as chief hearing officer on Dec. 16.

Because Nez was dismissed, Deschene's motion states the ruling against him is not legally binding and his name should be "restored as a rightful candidate for the president of the Navajo Nation."

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Russell Begaye, who finished third in the primary election, replaced Deschene on the ballot. He faces former tribal President Joe Shirley Jr.

Deswood Tome, special adviser to Shelly, said on Tuesday that under normal circumstances the Office of Hearings and Appeals has up to 30 days to review a filing. But Joe Aguirre, a hearing officer with the office, is under a directive from Arbin Mitchell, Shelly's chief of staff, not to hear or act on any cases, Tome said.

He said the Navajo Department of Justice is now looking to contract a hearing officer.

"They need to do that first," he said.

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.