Chukchansi suit called 'bogus' by spokesman

David Leibowitz, spokesman for the Nancy Ayala tribal council for the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indian, has said the recent lawsuit filed with a tribal court against Madera County on behalf of the Reggie Lewis tribal council “is bogus and not worth the paper it is written on.”

The majority of the 32-page suit lists alleged illegal activities against the Ayala faction, but also names Madera County Sheriff John Anderson for refusing to intercede in some of the disputes between Ayala tribal council and the Lewis tribal council.

The suit alleges the Ayala faction has violated the tribal anti-violence and ethics ordinances and have committed a number of financial improprieties.

The suit states many of the illegal actions were reported to Anderson but law enforcement measures were not taken. One incident involves the Ayala faction being allowed to remove 25 plastic containers of business records from the tribe’s housing authority offices on May 21, and the suit states Anderson failed to stop those unauthorized actions.

Anderson said his office investigated about 20 allegations, by all tribal factions, and the reports were presented to the county district attorney’s office. Anderson said in some cases, there was insufficient evidence of the charges.

“One report concerning an alleged casino theft by one of the factions was 42-pages long,” Anderson said.

Anderson said many of the accusations, from both factions, are civil complaints about the misuse of casino funds.

“This is a situation where when we do something, the other side complains, and when we don’t do something, the other side complains — we are sort of stuck in the middle of this conflict,” Anderson said. “We still do not know what side is the official tribal council. Many of these complaints will have to be solved internally or by federal courts or other federal authorities.”

“The events it (suit) recounts are bogus, as are the claims and accusations in this fictitious document,” said Leibowitz.The suit was filed Aug. 6 in one of two Chukchansi Rancheria tribal courts, one earlier set-up by the Ayala tribal council that is on the rancheria and one set-up by the Lewis tribal council.

Leibowitz said the judge of the Lewis tribal council is Jack Duran, a former law partner of the same firm who filed the lawsuit.

Richard Verri, an attorney with the law firm Rosette, LLP, representing the Lewis tribal council, said Tuesday that although Judge Duran has done work for one of the predecessors of his law firm, he has never been a member of the Rosette firm.

Leibowitz said Duran is paid by the Lewis group and questions that he (Duran) is now supposed to judge a lawsuit filed by his bosses and be fair to the defendants, whom he one represented, then abandoned.

Verri said there is only one tribal council of the tribe and that is the Lewis tribal council.

“Ayala has not followed tribal constitutional law since Feb. 21, when she attempted to take over the tribe in a coup, removed six members of the tribal council and appointed her relatives to the council,” Verri said. “All her actions since Feb. 21 are illegal and void.”

“The Ayala tribal council continues to come to work every day on the Rancheria and they continue to do real work — in sharp contrast to fake lawsuits, fake courts and fake judges,” Leibowitz said. “While the Lewis group may be paying Duran for his work... he has no power over Chukchansi tribal members or over Madera County officials,” Leibowitz said.

Doug Nelson, counsel for Madera County, said neither court is recognized by the county as being legitimate.

“Because it is unresolved which tribal council is the governing body of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, the authority of this tribal court is also unclear.”

The county has had an on-going problem when dealing with the tribe due to the leadership dispute between the Ayala and Lewis factions.

County supervisors recently sent a letter to the Department of Justice Bureau of Indian Affairs, asking the bureau to solve the leadership dispute since it is apparent the factions can not solve the issue. To date, the supervisors have not received a reply to the letter.

Nelson said that in 2007 the Madera County Board of Supervisors entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Chukchansi tribe.

“That MOU called for mediation of tribal-county disputes concerning the MOU and in the event mediation was impracticable, for the parties to resolve the issues in federal court,” Nelson said. “However, in order to proceed to mediation or to federal court, the Ayala tribal council and the Lewis tribal council need to submit the issue of tribal governance for resolution. The county does not know whether both tribal councils are interested in that solution.”

The suit says the defendants have caused the tribe financial injury and injury to the tribe’s reputation and goodwill in the community.

The suit seeks a minimum of $5 million in damages from the county.

Defendants have until Aug. 26 to respond to the suit.