Coconino Judge Rules Against Forgotten People Over Casino

Coconino Judge Rules Against Forgotten People Over Casino

12/1/10

By Kathy Helms
Dine Bureau
Gallup Independent

WINDOW ROCK – A Coconino County Superior Court judge refused to grant Forgotten People President Don Yellowman a motion for continuance Tuesday and quashed a lis pendens on the Twin Arrows Casino parcel filed by the grassroots group.

The Navajo Nation, through the Lewis and Roca law firm of Phoenix, filed suit against Yellowman, personally, on Nov. 16, claiming that the lis pendens was wrongful and asking the state court to quash it. Yellowman was asked to show cause at a hearing Tuesday afternoon before Superior Court Judge Dan Slayton.

Forgotten People filed the lis pendens Oct. 22 with the Coconino County Recorder. The lis pendens targets the deed to the Twin Arrows property and references a specific trust obligation for the benefit of the survivors of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.

In affidavits submitted as exhibits by the Navajo Nation, Controller Mark Grant stated that the Investment Committee of the Navajo Nation authorized an investment of $100 million from the Master Trust Fund to finance the development and construction of the Twin Arrows property on July 12, and that the Budget and Finance Committee approved the investment July 26.

An affidavit from Navajo Gaming Enterprise CEO Robert Winter states that the enterprise bought the 405.61 acre tract of land on Aug. 16, and on Aug. 25 “gifted” it to the Navajo Nation with the understanding that the Twin Arrows property would be leased back to the Gaming Enterprise so that the Enterprise could proceed with its development plans.

Winter also stated that the Enterprise has obtained financing that requires it to demonstrate in advance that the Twin Arrows property has no liens or encumbrances that negatively impact the title to the property. The mere appearance of the notice of lis pendens “creates a cloud on title” and unless the notice is immediately removed, he said, the Enterprise would not be able to meet the conditions for its financing and might lose approximately $100 million in funding for the development of the Twin Arrows property.

Yellowman filed an affidavit Monday with Coconino County Superior Court claiming the court didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case and also filed a motion for continuance so he could have time to secure legal representation. Marsha Monestersky, program manager for Forgotten People, said Tuesday after Slayton’s ruling that it’s “inexcusable” for the judge not to have granted a motion to continue in light of the Thanksgiving holiday. “We were trying to find an attorney but we couldn’t,” she said.

Yellowman maintained that the filing of the lis pendens was proper because it related to issues brought in a pending lawsuit and that the Coconino County court “does not have jurisdiction to second-guess the Navajo Nation judicial system on the nature of matters pending before it.”

“We’ll still move on with our suit on the Navajo Nation; it doesn’t affect that. That’s improper use of the Rehabilitation Trust Fund,” Monestersky said.

Nancy Scott, daughter of Betty Scott whose property lies next door to the proposed Twin Arrows site, said she was very disappointed that she wasn’t allowed to speak at the hearing or to ask questions. “We’re just never heard,” she said, adding that her mother is one of 12 complainants in a lawsuit pending in the Navajo Nation court system.

Despite the setback, Yellowman said, “We stood up to the Navajo Nation. We didn’t back down. Our tail is not between our legs. We’ve got a little wiggle still left in our tail.”

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