Three members of the Uncompahgre Band of the Ute Indian Tribe have filed a lawsuit against tribal business leaders in federal court in Salt Lake City.
Plaintiffs Lupe M. Duncan, Cecelia Jenks and Shirleta LaPramboise say the tribal business leaders violated their civil rights by conspiring together to coerce 30 people who had signed a petition seeking the recall of business committee chairman Stewart Pike to have their names removed, thus invalidating the recall effort.Besides Pike, defendants named in the suit are business committee members Floyd Wopsock, Wendell Navanick and Ronald Wopsock; non-tribal member Janet Cuch; and tribal members Colene Black, Shere L. Cesspooch, Deanna Jack, Lorna S. Jenks, Maxine Manning, Randy McCook Sr., Crystal Moriarty, Joan J. Perank and 10 unnamed individuals.
According to the lawsuit, the defendants "intentionally through the use of promises, assurances and pledges of benefit wrongfully induced" 30 of the petition signers to have their names removed from the Pike recall petition.
The recall petition did not state a reason why Pike should be removed from office.
The lawsuit seeks to have the 30 statements, signed by those who removed their names from the recall petition, be declared null and void.
The suit also calls for the court to order the business committee to proceed with a recall election on Pike.
It also seeks monetary damages to be awarded at the time of trial.
According to court records, the plantiffs presented the 18-page petition to the business committee May 25. It contained the signatures of 176 Uncompahgre Band members.
From May 26 to 31, the lawsuit says, the defendants actively worked to obtain statements from 30 individuals requesting that their names be removed from the recall petition.
During a June 1 business committee meeting, the lawsuit states, the vital statistics department reported the document did contain the requisite number of valid names needed to proceed with the recall process.
That same day, however, according to the plantiffs, four of the six business committee members voted to remove the names of 30 signers who requested their names be withdrawn after being contacted by the defendants. With the elimination of those names, the recall petition was effectively declared invalid.
Business committee members Luke Duncan and Frances Poo-we-gup cast their votes against the action.
Although recall efforts against members of the governing business committee are becoming almost standard practice among dissatisfied constituents, one tribal member said this is the first time such actions have been filed in federal court.
The conspiracy charges were initially filed in tribal court. They were dismissed because the business committee as an entity, rather than as individual members, had been named as defendants. The tribal court judge did give the plantiffs the chance to refile their case when the technicality was cleared.
The defendants have 20 days from the time the lawsuit was served to respond to the complaint.