One year ago the attorneys for the Ute Indian Tribe and the state of Utah went head to head in a courtroom in Salt Lake City to argue over jurisdictional rights to approximately 4 million acres in Duchesne and Uintah counties.
Following approximately two hours of testimony on Sept. 12, 1994, Federal District Court Judge Bruce S. Jenkins took the case under advisement.At the time, court observers expected Jenkins to "take several weeks" before handing down a ruling in the complex case. But now attorneys aren't even venturing a guess as to when a decision might be expected.
At issue is the interpretation of a February 1993 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hagen vs. Utah. The tribe contends that the high court justices meant to keep the reservation's exterior boundaries intact and simply "excised" from the reservation any lands - such as the city of Roosevelt - that were settled under the homestead and townsite laws pursuant to the 1905 Presidential Proclamation. On the other hand, the state has argued that the Supreme Court ruling "disestablished" the reservation, removing its exterior boundaries and leaving approximately 1 million acres of trust lands, which checkerboard Duchesne and Uintah counties.
Shortly after hearing the case last September Jenkins retired, or took "senior status," which allows him to pick and choose which cases he will hear at the bench, but he still maintains judicial responsibility over the jurisdiction issue.
Phil Pugsley, assistant attorney general over Indian Affairs, says Jenkins is very familiar with the complicated issues surrounding the jurisdiction controversy, having been involved in the dispute since it first landed in court close to two decades ago. Pugsley feels the judge is taking his time to carefully examine each issue because the case is such a difficult one to resolve.
Duchesne County Attorney Herb Gillespie agrees. "He has gone as long as eight months on other cases. He's a retired judge now, so his time isn't as concentrated, and it's a hot potato. I thought it would be settled by now, but it doesn't surprise me."