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Navajo Nation Supreme Court denies motion filed by president, council

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The tribe's Supreme Court has denied motions filed by Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and the Navajo Nation Council regarding the April 21 special election.

An opinion signed Monday by Chief Justice Herb Yazzie, Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley and Associate Justice by Designation William J. Platero denies the council's March 24 motion, stating it was filed too late and after a formal decision had been rendered.

The high court also denied Shelly's March 31 motion because his argument is "undercut" by the fact that he holds the presidential office until the special election.

"A caretaker should not advocate to extend his term of office," the court document states.

On March 20, the high court ordered the Navajo Election Administration to use its available operating funds to fund a special election to choose a president on April 21.

Shelly and the council challenged that decision, both stating tribal law for such appropriations must be followed.

In Monday's six-page opinion, the justices repeated the special election will proceed on April 21.

They further ordered the acting controller to immediately transfer $317,000 to the election administration to replenish its operating fund.

On March 27, Navajo Nation Attorney General Harrison Tsosie asked the high court to clarify how the acting controller would replenish the funds without following tribal law.

The court granted the request but noted in that motion that Tsosie was not "entirely forthright about other available funding and other laws."

"The court is dismayed but not surprised by the lack of candor considering this is a case fraught with political self-interest," Monday's opinion states.

The court states the Contingency Management Fund should be used to replace the funding used by the election administration for the special election.

The Contingency Management Fund is reserved to settle judgments or claims owed by the tribe from court cases or other legal action.

Monday's opinion also clearly states that the high court's role is to declare and enforce the law. The justices note this is what they did when they determined last fall that the president must speak Navajo, as mandated by tribal law.

"Being a nation of laws, it was and remains important for the future of the Navajo people that its government continue to be viewed as a nation that honors its own laws free from the influence of politics," the opinion states.

In addition, the justices wrote that while an election can be postponed for up to 60 days, the postponement of the special election has been for "purely political reasons," and filings by Shelly and the council were aimed at creating obstacles to funding.

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