Hearing set for former tribal council speaker

Noel Lyn Smith
Former Navajo Nation Council Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan arrives at Window Rock District Court on Aug. 24 in Window Rock, Ariz.

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Supreme Court will hold a hearing for a former tribal council speaker who pleaded guilty to a charge involving the misuse of a financial assistance program designated to help tribal members facing financial hardship.

Former Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan filed a petition to the high court in November that seeks to strike down an order issued by the Window Rock District Court that revoked a plea deal Morgan entered in 2014.

Morgan, who represented the Iyanbito and Pinedale chapters, was charged in December 2013 with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and six counts of bribery.

He entered into a plea agreement with the Navajo Nation on Sept. 9, 2014, and it was accepted, along with his guilty plea to the charge of conspiracy to commit bribery, by the district court on Sept. 10, 2014, according to court documents.

During a sentencing hearing on Sept. 6, 2016, Morgan stated he was unable to pay $17,800 in restitution, court documents state.

District Court Judge Carol Perry issued an order on Oct. 27, 2016, that vacated the 2014 plea agreement, as well as setting a new sentencing hearing for Morgan.

Perry wrote in the order that, as a leader, Morgan "must practice good faith in his leadership capacity," and that included honoring the agreement to pay back money to the tribe.

She added that the former speaker's conduct is "worthy of jail time," and the court was notified he did not attend a required life value engagement class on Sept. 30, 2016.

Morgan's petition argues that his sentence should be executed as outlined in the plea agreement because he cooperated with the special prosecutor.

That assistance included Morgan waiving his right against self-incrimination and providing an interview to the special prosecutor as part of efforts to resolve the remaining cases against former delegates.

"Accordingly, a judge who has accepted a plea bargain is bound to impose a sentence within the limits of that bargain," the petition states.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Morgan's six bribery charges would have been dismissed. He would have been sentenced to probation but no jail time.

The hearing will be held at 10 a.m. Friday in the Legislative District Assistant Building in Window Rock, Ariz.

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