VP Jonathan Nez remains eligible to seek top office

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FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Supreme Court has determined that Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez remains an eligible candidate for the tribe's presidential race.

In a written decision issued on Wednesday, Chief Justice JoAnn B. Jayne, Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley and Associate Justice by Designation Cynthia Thompson ruled former presidential candidate Vincent H. Yazzie's claim as insufficient.

They also reaffirmed the Sept. 26 decision by the Office of Hearings and Appeals that dismissed a claim that Nez was not eligible to seek the president's office.

Yazzie, who was among 18 candidates vying for the office in the primary election in August, accused Nez of violating the Navajo Election Code by not disclosing a misdemeanor conviction for driving while under the influence of alcohol on his candidacy forms.

Nez was charged with extreme DUI and DUI in June 2002, according to records from Flagstaff Municipal Court in Flagstaff, Arizona.

According to court records, the extreme DUI charge was dismissed, and he pleaded guilty to DUI in August 2002.

Yazzie claimed Nez did not list the conviction on his candidacy paperwork and that, under an amendment to the election code, all candidates must disclose convictions regardless of when they occurred.

The high court reaffirmed the OHA decision that Nez did not violate the qualifications for the presidency as stated in the election code and that he was not required to disclose his conviction because it occurred more than five years ago.

Yazzie appealed to the high court on Oct. 8, more than a week after Chief Hearing Officer Richie Nez ruled Jonathan Nez did not violate election laws and was qualified for the office.

The high court also struck down Yazzie's claim that Richie Nez, who is unrelated to the vice president, abused his discretion because he did not recuse himself from the case. Yazzie had alleged Richie Nez could not exercise fairness because he is the respondent in an employment case involving a former OHA employee.

"Yazzie did not ascertain the chief hearing officer's alleged prejudice or bias at the (Sept. 26) hearing. From the record, there was no evidence offered to the OHA to support a recusal," the justices wrote.

Nez released a statement about the decision early Thursday morning on his campaign's Facebook page.

"Our team felt confident that the Supreme Court would come to this finding. We appreciate the court's expedient review of the matter and we look forward to continuing our campaign of progress as demanded by the Navajo people," Nez said.

Yazzie could not be reached for comment today.

It was the second appeal Yazzie had filed to the Supreme Court regarding allegations against a presidential candidate.

On Oct. 4, the high court upheld the OHA's dismissal of a complaint Yazzie filed against Joe Shirley Jr. Both Nez and Shirley remain contenders for the presidency in the general election.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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