Supreme Court: Delegate's wife to stay in jail

Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Nation Council Delegate Mel R. Begay, right, walks with his attorney, Jeffery Rasmussen, after Begay’s pre-trial hearing in Window Rock District Court in Window Rock, Ariz.

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Supreme Court denied a petition filed this week asking for a Navajo Nation Council delegate's wife to be released from jail.

Mitzie Begay, who is married to Delegate Mel R. Begay, filed a request that called on the high court to release her from jail in Window Rock, Ariz.

She was ordered to jail on Monday  evening after Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry found her in contempt of court for repeatedly refusing to answer questions about the discretionary fund case. Her husband has been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and making or permitting false tribal vouchers in connection to the fund.

Begay's petition also asked the court to dismiss claims filed against her and for an order to relieve her from participating in future legal proceedings related to the criminal charges filed against her husband.

Perry ordered Begay to remain in jail until she complies with a court order to answer questions by the tribe's special prosecutor.

Martha King, Mitzie Begay's attorney, filed the petition on Tuesday, and the Supreme Court held a hearing on Friday in Tsé Bonito.

The justices stated they heard several arguments at the hearing concerning the criminal proceedings against Delegate Begay, according to the written decision.

But the justices wrote that arguments such as those focusing on the statute of limitations and the special prosecutor's jurisdiction were "beyond the scope of our review."

They also noted the district court provided Mitzie Begay a remedy to "purge" the contempt order and resolve her jail status.

"We urge her careful consideration of that remedy," the written decision states.

According to court documents, the special prosecutor has made several attempts to interview Mitzie Begay, and she has invoked spousal privilege each time. Spousal privilege prevents married couples from being forced to testify against one another in certain cases.

The jury trial for Delegate Begay is set to start at 9 a.m. Monday in Window Rock District Court. Begay represents the chapters of Bahastl'ah, Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti and Tohatchi

His attorney, Jeffery Rasmussen, filed two motions this week with the tribe's Supreme Court.

The first requested that Judge Perry be recused from the case for allegedly having ex parte communications with the special prosecutor and scheduling hearings without properly notifying Delegate Begay and his attorneys.

The second motion was to reconsider a denial to continue the trial.

The high court has not weighed in on either motion.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.