Former delegate's removal challenge denied

Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Nation Council Delegate Mel R. Begay stands outside the Window Rock District Court after his trial in March.

FARMINGTON – The Navajo Nation Office of Hearings and Appeals has dismissed a grievance that sought to overturn the removal of Mel R. Begay from the Navajo Nation Council.

Chief Hearing Officer Richie Nez dismissed the grievance on Thursday, ruling that the Navajo Election Administration did not violate the Navajo Election Code when it removed Begay from the council.

The election administration issued the removal on April 15 after receiving the amended final order from Window Rock District Court.

The court order stated that a jury found Begay, who represented the Bahastl’ah, Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti and Tohatchi chapters, guilty of 10 counts of misusing the tribe's former financial assistance program to benefit his family.

Begay filed his grievance on Tuesday, claiming the election administration breached the election code and the removal was premature and improper because sentencing has not occurred.

A sentencing hearing for Begay has been scheduled for 11 a.m. on May 17 in Window Rock District Court.

"The sentencing stage at this point is a mere formality," Nez wrote in the order of dismissal.

Nez wrote that a Navajo jury convicted a Navajo leader, and upon being convicted, "it can be said that the leader broke Diné Traditional Law" by not fulfilling his duties and responsibilities in "a moral and legal manner."

“The plain language therefore requires that upon conviction, this leader lost the trust and confidence which was bestowed upon him when he was elected into office," Nez wrote.

Begay's grievance also requested that the OHA issue a stay of his removal pending the outcome of an appeal of the district court's final order that he intends to file with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court.

Nez wrote in the dismissal order the office does not have the authority to issue stays. Nez added that the tribe's election code allows Begay up to 10 days to file an appeal to the high court if he disagrees with the OHA decision.

In addition to removing Begay, the election administration declared the council seat vacant and opened the candidacy filing period on April 15 to represent the five chapters. The filing period closed on Friday.

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