Cherokee court lifts impeachment stay

A court-ordered stay over impeachment proceedings against Principal Chief Patrick Lambert has been lifted following an order filed at 5:09 p.m. Wednesday, May 10.

The Cherokee Supreme Court issued the order just hours after arguments concluded with Lambert’s attorney Scott Jones requesting a preliminary injunction to halt impeachment proceedings until a full court hearing could be conducted and final decision made.

Temporary Associate Judge Sharon Tracey Barrett had denied the request following initial hearings April 18 and April 26, but Lambert appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. The court had issued a stay over impeachment proceedings while the request for preliminary injunction was being decided — now that the request has been denied, the stay is lifted.

The Supreme Court was composed of a three-justice panel that included Presiding Chief Justice Brenda Toineeta Pipestem, Associate Justice Robert Hunter and Associate Justice Jerry Waddell.

The Cherokee Tribal Council’s May meeting is being held today. No legislation pertaining to Lambert’s impeachment is on the agenda, and the tribal code requires that agendas with items to be discussed be provided to councilmembers at least five days before each meeting. However, the council had set the initial impeachment date of April 20 — that hearing was never held, due to the court-ordered stay — as part of a move from the floor at its April 6 meeting that was not included on the agenda.

The two days of Supreme Court hearings on the matter concluded before noon yesterday. Wednesday’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. 

The Wednesday hearing followed more than three hours of arguments heard Tuesday, May 9, 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.

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

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