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MACDONALD SAYS HE’S STUCK WITH `UNWILLING’ COUNSEL

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Suspended tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald says he's not happy that "two unwilling lawyers" have been appointed to defend him in his trial in tribal court on election-fraud charges.

District Judge Robert Yazzi on Tuesday appointed legal counsel for MacDonald after being ordered by the Navajo Supreme Court to do so and to reconsider MacDonald's indigency petition.MacDonald's election-fraud trial - the first of three pending for him - was to have started Tuesday, but the proceeding was delayed until later this year, after the other two trials are held.

Yazzie also postponed the trial of suspended Vice Chairman Johnny R. Thompson, who was to have gone on trial with MacDonald on Tuesday.

After reviewing MacDonald's indigency petition, Yazzi ruled that MacDonald was not indigent. Yazzi then appointed Navajo Legal Aid attorney Peter Breen and Farmington, N.M., attorney Doug Moeller to represent MacDonald.

Had Yazzie declared MacDonald indigent, he could have appointed a member of the Navajo Nation Bar to represent him without pay.

Under the Supreme Court ruling, Breen and Moeller will be paid by the tribe, but the tribe could seek to be reimbursed by MacDonald at a later date.

Breen moved to withdraw from the case shortly after he was appointed, just as he did last week when Yazzie named him as "standby" counsel for MacDonald.

MacDonald also indicated that he wasn't completely comfortable with the appointment.

"I'd like to pick the lawyer that's going to represent me," he said.

But Yazzie denied Breen's motion to withdraw and said the Supreme Court did not give MacDonald the option of choosing his own lawyer.

"I don't feel comfortable about that," responded MacDonald in an interview after the ruling. "Mr. Breen has a conflict of interest, and Mr. Moeller doesn't want to get involved. Two unwilling lawyers doesn't make me feel very comfortable at all."

MacDonald did not elaborate on Breen's alleged conflict of interest, and Breen would not discuss the matter.

Yazzie severed MacDonald's trial from Thompson's Tuesday, and jury selection already was under waywhen Thompson asked that the judge reconsider and try the two together. Yazzie granted the motion.

Chief Justice Tom Tzo said the Supreme Court's decision was based on its desire to ensure that MacDonald receive a fair trial.

Yazzi said the election-fraud trial would be held after MacDonald goes on trial Aug. 28 on charges he accepted kickbacks and bribes from businesses operating on the reservation, and on Sept. 25 on conspiracy charges stemming from the tribe's July 1988 purchase of the Big Boquillas Ranch in northern Arizona for $33.4 million.

MacDonald, who was placed on paid leave by the Tribal Council, is charged with 93 counts and Thompson with 47 counts of filing fraudulent campaign reports by failing to report contributions from non-Indians and Indians in the tribe's 1986 election. The charges also allege the funds received exceeded the maximum of $84,192 allowed.