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Wednesday, 10 May 2017 18:06

Cherokee court hears arguments in impeachment lawsuit

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Two days of hearings in the Cherokee Supreme Court wrapped up today, with the three-justice panel now charged with deciding whether to order a halt to impeachment proceedings against Principal Chief Patrick Lambert until the court can come to a final decision on the lawsuit challenging Tribal Council’s actions.

Today’s two hours of arguments focused on whether the Grand Council of enrolled members that Lambert held Tuesday, April 18, was a legitimately called Grand Council and whether the vote taken there to kill Tribal Council’s efforts to impeach Lambert should carry the force of law.

In addition arguments from each of the attorneys, the hearing included several rounds of back-and-forth questioning between justices and attorneys. Issues included:

- Whether the Grand Council meeting was adequately advertised.

- Whether the tribe’s traditions and customs hold Grand Council as a body capable of making enforceable decisions.

- Whether the voting procedures at the April 18 Grand Council resulted in a fair and accurate count. 

Today’s hearing followed more than three hours of arguments heard yesterday as part of the same case. Issues discussed in detail during the May 9 session included:

- The authority of the tribe's attorney general to bring a lawsuit against the tribal government. 

- Whether the tribe's sovereign immunity had been waived, allowing the case to be tried. 

- Whether the fact that weighted votes in Tribal Council are not based on current census numbers — the last census was conducted in 2001 — should necessitate a delay in impeachment proceedings until completion of a new census. 

- Whether the Indian Civil Rights Act applies in this case.

- Whether tribal law grants Tribal Council the power to remove impeached officials.

Associate Justice Brenda Pipestem, who is presiding over the three-judge panel, intends to issue a joint decision for the two hearings. Joining her on the panel are Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Hunter and Temporary Justice Jerry Waddell.

Lambert, represented by Asheville-based attorney Scott Jones, is asking the court for a preliminary injunction to halt impeachment proceedings until the full case can be heard.

Full coverage will appear in the May 17 issue of The Smoky Mountain News.