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Standoff at KBIC Court – Shalifoe Suspends Both Tribal Judges

KBIC-LogoA legal dispute within the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community developed into a physical standoff today, as Tribal Council President Donald Shalifoe issued an order suspending Chief Judge Bradley Dakota and Associate Judge Violet Friisvall Ayres.

The argument began last week, when Ayres issued a temporary restraining order voiding the results of a recent Tribal referendum on the proposed purchase of the Baraga Lakeside Inn. Tribal members at the referendum voted overwhelmingly in favor of the purchase. Former Tribal Council member Fred Dakota filed a motion to vacate the vote, saying it should have been done by secret ballot, instead of by a public show of hands. KBIC law prevented Judge Dakota from hearing the case, because Fred Dakota is his father.

At a follow-up hearing yesterday, Friisvall-Ayers was also asked to recuse herself, because of her close working relationship with Judge Dakota, who is her supervisor. Ayers took the motion under advisement. This morning, Shalifoe suspended both judges without pay.

Both Dakota and Friisvall-Ayres said that Shalifoe had ordered electrical power and water to be shut off to the court building today, although that had not occurred as of early this afternoon. Shalifoe confirmed that he had issued that order. Both sides confirmed that court employees have been ordered to report to the Big Bucks Bingo Hall tomorrow, instead of to their regular positions at the court building. Shalifoe said a temporary judge, Jeff Loman, has been appointed to hear cases. The only requirements to serve as a KBIC judge is that the person be a Tribal member, at least 25 years of age, and pass a background check. Tribal judges do not need to be attorneys. He also said that Dakota and Friisvall-Ayres could be reinstated by Council. Council will meet to discuss the matter on Thursday. The meeting date was set yesterday, and the KBIC requires a three-day notice before any Council meeting is held.

Shalifoe said that he and at least some other Council members felt that Friisvall-Ayers had broken KBIC law by unlawfully interfering in the electoral process. Shalifoe said Dakota was not originally included in the suspension, but was added following some public remarks made late yesterday. Shalifoe also said that Friisvall-Ayres’ original order will be appealed.

The KBIC Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Judges are elected by popular vote of Tribal members. There is a method of impeachment that can be pursued by the Tribal Council, although a two-thirds vote is needed to force a judge from office. Shalifoe emphasized that no impeachment proceedings have begun. Decisions made by the Tribal Court can be appealed to a three-judge panel. With Dakota already ineligible to hear the original case, if Friisvall-Ayres recuses herself, the case would be heard by a visiting judge from another Tribe.

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