High court rules against delegate's requests

Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Nation

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The Navajo Nation Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled against two motions filed by tribal council Delegate Mel R. Begay, who is facing charges for allegedly misusing tribal emergency funds.

Acting Chief Justice Allen Sloan, Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley and Associate Justice by Designation Irene Toledo issued the rulings while jury selection for Begay's trial proceeded in Window Rock District Court.

Last week, Begay asked the high court to prohibit the district court from acting on criminal proceedings because it lacked jurisdiction, according to court documents.

The justices wrote in their decision that they found no basis to order the district court to stop the proceedings because the matter remains under trial and undecided.

They stated Begay “has an adequate remedy at law in an appeal of a final judgment.”

The Supreme Court also dismissed Begay’s appeal of several orders issued by the district court in regard to his case. Once again, the justices stated the outcome of the complaints filed against Begay remains pending, and a trial has started to address the charges.

Begay filed the appeal to challenge several orders issued by the district court. One of the issues raised in the motion focuses on whether he and his wife, Mitzie Begay, were entitled to spousal privilege. Mitzie Begay was found in contempt of court on March 7 after she repeatedly refused to answer questions about the discretionary fund case. She remains in a Window Rock jail.

The high court dismissed Delegate Begay’s appeal and wrote in a decision that its jurisdiction is limited to appeals of final judgments and final orders.

Last July, Begay was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and nine counts of making or permitting false tribal vouchers that were allegedly used to issue assistance from the discretionary fund to his relatives.

His jury trial moved a step closer to reality as attorneys from both sides asked questions of 24 potential jurors in order to seat a jury.

The jury selection concluded after 5 p.m. when eight individuals were selected. Tribal law mandates that a jury in any case consist of six individuals.

The court will reconvene to hear opening statements at 9 a.m. today in Window Rock.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636.