New motion asks for Navajo Nation officials to be held in contempt of court

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A new motion filed in the Navajo Nation Supreme Court asks that certain tribal officials be held in contempt for not following an earlier court order to hold the presidential special election by the end of January.

The motion also seeks to nullify two resolutions Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed into law on Saturday. Those resolutions set a new presidential election and pardoned and reinstated the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors.

This latest motion was filed at 4:42 p.m. Monday by attorneys for former presidential candidates Dale E. Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne.

The motion asks for the high court to reaffirm its December order to the Navajo Election Administration to conduct the presidential special election by Jan. 31.

The petitioners are also asking for the court to immediately schedule a hearing to address the motion.

If a hearing is granted, the petitioners ask that Edison Wauneka, the election administration executive director, and Council Delegates Mel R. Begay, Lorenzo Curley, Jonathan Hale, Leonard Haskie, Walter Phelps, Danny Simpson, Roscoe Smith, Duane Tsinigine, Roland Tso, Leonard Tsosie and Edmund Yazzie be ordered to appear for a contempt hearing.

The 11 delegates voted in favor of the bill to reset the presidential special election during the council special session on Dec. 30.

The petitions ask that Wauneka be removed from office and Begay, Hale, Phelps, Tsosie and Yazzie be removed from the council.

The five men will be sworn in today in Fort Defiance, Ariz., for service on the 23rd council.

The high court is also being asked to "null and void" the resolutions for the presidential special election and the election board pardon and reinstatement.

In addition to these requests, the petitioners ask that tribal Controller Mark Grant and staff from the tribe's Office of Management and Budget appear before the high court to discuss funding the presidential special election.

Since the Aug. 26 primary election, the road to the tribal presidential office has been filled with legal maneuvers.

Some of those actions were recapped in Monday's motion. But the motion highlights Shelly's concurrence with the council for restarting the presidential election process.

"This resolution is in contempt of this court," the motion states.

The motion explains that the action by the council "purports" to disregard the high court's Jan. 31 special election deadline, "purports" to throw out the 2014 presidential primary election and "attempts" to allow disqualified presidential candidate Chris Deschene to return to the ballot, according to the motion.

Deschene was disqualified after Dale E. Tsosie and Whitethorne filed election grievances in the tribe's Office of Hearings and Appeals, accusing Deschene of not being qualified for the presidency because he was not fluent in the Navajo language, a requirement of the office.

Regarding the council's pardon of the election board, the motion states that the legislative body "has no 'pardon' power," and the power to pardon can only be issued by the Navajo people.

"'Pardons,' to the extent that there is such a power, apply to criminal convictions, not contempt sanctions," the motion states.

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.