Impeachment in Cherokee

Impeachment hearings: The charges

Impeachment hearings: The charges

The impeachment process set in motion during a February Tribal Council meeting reached its climax this week as Principal Chief Patrick Lambert faced a list of 12 charges during all-day impeachment hearings May 22-23.

Tribal Council approved seven articles of impeachment during an April 6 vote but added five charges to the list during an impromptu session held Friday, April 21. During this week’s impeachment hearing, prosecution and defense lawyers made their respective cases for Lambert’s removal or acquittal, with Tribal Council then deciding the outcome. As of press time, testimony was ongoing and no decision had yet been made. 

The charges against Lambert and his written responses to them are listed below. 


Article I

• The charge: After his election as chief but before his swearing in, Lambert signed a contract with the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise that paid $3,825 per night for a four-year room contract at the Cherokee Grand Hotel, which he owns. The contract violated a tribal law stating that no elected official can enter into a contract with any tribal entity. 

• The defense: At the time the contract was signed, Lambert was not sworn in and therefore not an “official.” The contract benefited the tribe, as the per-room rate was much lower than what the casino typically paid.

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Article II

• The charge: Lambert began acting as chief before taking his oath of office. The law firm he uses, Asheville-based Cloninger, Barbour, Searson, Jones, and Cash, was paid $9,100 for services performed prior to the inauguration. Lambert executed a contract to renovate the tribal executive office four days before the inauguration. 

• The defense: No payment for those pre-inauguration legal services was authorized or dispersed until after the swearing-in. The contract dated Oct. 1 was never executed. 


Article III

• The charge: Lambert violated tribal law requiring Business Committee approval for contracts over $50,000 by failing to secure approval for several contracts. These contracts include a $62,000 contract for renovation of the executive office, a contract for a forensic audit that was originally for $65,000 but racked up $315,000, a December 2015 consulting agreement for $150,000, and a March 2016 contract for $18,000 that resulted in expenditures of $182,000.

• The defense: None of the contracts listed lacked necessary Business Committee approval. The $62,000 contract was never executed. Instead, it was amended and approved by the Business Committee. Forensic audits have historically been considered consulting agreements and not subject to Business Committee Approval. The $150,000 contract was approved by the Business Committee the day before Lambert took office. The $18,000 contract paid for consulting as to the feasibility of implementing timeclocks. The remaining expense was for the actual purchase of timeclocks, and such purchases do not require Business Committee approval. 


Article IV

• The charge: Lambert made significant changes to the tribe’s organizational structure without Tribal Council’s approval, as is required in tribal code. 

• The defense: Lambert established a new organizational structure in 2015, which Tribal Council approved that December with the annual budget. Lambert made further revisions throughout 2016, and those changes were approved as part of the 2017 budget. Organizational changes have historically been approved as part of the budget process. 


Article V

• The charge: When ratifying an ordinance making the Tribal Employment Rights Office an independent entity, Lambert issued a signing statement that he would no longer allow TERO to use tribal resources, even though tribal code states that TERO should have access to these resources. 

• The defense: The signing statement was merely a way for Lambert to highlight issues with the law as written. He never directed any tribal employee to deny TERO tribal resources.


Article VI

• The charge: Tribal law stipulates that the chief and vice chief must both be involved in carrying out tribal business. However, several of Lambert’s personnel actions violated this requirement. Without the vice chief’s knowledge, he assigned an interim manager to a manager position that was already filled, made a political appointment to an unapproved position and authorized five employee pay raises without any supporting documentation. 

• The defense: The interim manager was appointed because the manager was away for the Remember the Removal Bike Ride. The political appointment was simply a re-titled position, not a new position, and did not require a budget amendment. The five pay raises were given to reflect the duties of the individuals in question. 


Article VII

• The charge: Payment to the Cloninger, Barbour, Searson, Jones and Cash law firm totaling $9,100 was made for work done prior to Lambert’s swearing in, violating a tribal law that forbids public servants from “knowingly commit(ting) an unauthorized act which purports to be an act of office.”

• The defense: The legal work in question was related to issues Lambert would deal with in his first day in office, and it wasn’t aimed at Lambert’s personal gain. The bill reflects the nature of the work performed. 


Article VIII

• The charge: Lambert broke anti-bribery laws by telling Councilmembers Bo Crowe and Albert Rose that he would allow them to appoint members of their community to the TERO commission — tribal code gives the chief the power to appoint these members — if they would withdraw or table a resolution they’d submitted. 

• The defense: Lambert did not give or accept anything of value, so the anti-bribery ordinance doesn’t apply. He discussed appointing a TERO board member and a Police Commissioner from the townships and expressed a desire that the councilmembers table the resolution in question but did not trade one offer for the other. The councilmembers did not table the resolution, but Lambert did appoint the TERO and Police Commission members discussed. 


Article IX

• The charge: Beginning April 7, Lambert restricted the Office of Internal Audit’s access to tribal financial records, a direct violation of laws stipulating that OIA have unfettered access to these records. 

• The defense: Because vulnerabilities had been detected in the tribe’s financial management system that put confidential information at risk, Secretary of the Treasury Erik Sneed instituted new internal controls and required employees to reapply for access to the system. The OIA was not prevented from accessing financial records, and the action was not directed by the chief. 


Article X

• The charge: In February, Tribal Council passed a resolution directing articles of impeachment be drafted and that Tribal Council retain a special impeachment prosecutor. Tribal Council selected R. Daniel Boyce from Nexsen/Pruet PLLC as its attorney, but Lambert prevented any payment from being released, violating tribal law preventing interference with a public servant performing an official function. 

• The defense: The check was held because legal requirements for issuance of a check had not been met. Boyce was not selected in an open session of Tribal Council, and he had previously argued cases harmful to the tribe. 


Article XI

• The charge: The Grand Council Lambert held April 18, during which the 1,000-plus attendees voted to halt the impeachment proceedings, attempted to impede Tribal Council’s sole authority to impeach. 

• The defense: The Charter and Governing Document clearly gives the principal chief authority to call a Grand Council as he sees fit. 


Article XII

• The charge: Lambert violated laws preventing use of tribal resources for personal benefit when he issued administrative leave for tribal employees to attend Grand Council, used tribal transit to bus people there and used tribal employees to work the Grand Council. 

• The defense: During Chief Crowe’s 1979 Grand Council, employees were given administrative leave and tribal assets were used. The Grand Council was not for Lambert’s personal gain but rather a forum for all enrolled members to speak on issues of importance to the tribe.

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