Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Tribe In The Media: Mohegan Tribal Court

Feather News

This installment of The Tribe In The Media is an article from The Day newspaper of New London concerning the controversy that resulted in a reporter being denied access to the Mohegan Tribal Court.

The controversy outlined in this article and last Sunday's article in The Day began with a good standing complaint initiated by the chairman and secretary of the Mohegan Tribal Council over articles written by Brokenwing on his blog website. Those Tribal Councilors filed a complaint over a handful of articles on Brokenwing Editorials that dealt with 1) the investment performance of funds under the stewardship of the Tribal government 2) the nature of comments made by the Tribal Council chairman during an open session of a Tribal Council meeting, and 3) a 'Thanksgiving' article on being thankful for the benefits that (primarily) Tribal members receive.

These articles, and much of what Brokenwing writes about, focus on governance and performance issues which are helpful for Tribal members to better understanding how their government operates. These issues receive scant, if any, attention in the Wuskuso newsletter produced by the Tribal government and issued to Tribal members.

For these reasons, we feel that the information on the blogs is helpful and has nothing to do with 'dirty laundry.' Transparency in governemnt is important to us and governance issues should not be relegated to such a category. The Feather News regards the Tribe more as a nation than a family. We need national leaders that implement best-government practices for the citizens and not family bosses that choose policy and laws that they find convenient for their lifestyles.

The article below shows the consequences of family bosses trying to implement policy that they find convenient, not policy that is best for our Indian nation. According to the article below, the reputation of our Tribal Court seems to have been affected by the perception of family bosses intervening on issues that should be independent of their control.

The blogs serve an important purpose because the Mohegan Tribe has invested little in housing on the Reservation. Because of this, the independent blogs (not controlled by the Tribal government) can provide many Tribal members who live off the Reservation with relevant and timely news on their government and government's business operations. News that the citizens would never receive otherwise.

Assure open Mohegan courts
The Editor of The Day newspaper
January 29, 2009

It was troubling to learn that David Collins, a columnist for this newspaper, ran into resistance when he tried to obtain documents from the Mohegan Tribal Court. Mr. Collins wanted information on tribal litigation involving a member who allegedly posted personal and proprietary information on his Internet blog. It is understandable why the tribe would not want to air such dirty laundry, but the true test of a transparent system is allowing access to information even when that information causes some discomfort.

We found some reassurance in the comments of Paul M. Guernsey, chief judge of the Mohegan tribal courts, who guaranteed us the court system is open and tribal councilors or council elders exert no pressure on the judges of the Mohegan Gaming Disputes and Mohegan Tribal courts.

Yet in his column last Sunday Mr. Collins detailed his difficult experience with the Mohegan Tribal Court, outlining efforts by tribal brass to block his access to information in the case and to the actual courtroom.

Judge Guernsey, who has worked in the tribal courts since their inception in 1996, emphatically said Wednesday the courts are open to the public except in a few rare cases, such as sometimes when minor children are involved or surveillance film is played. And Judge Guernsey said tribal leaders hold no sway over rulings made by the court.

The judge should relay that information to the tribal council and elders. In this convoluted case of trying to gag a fellow Mohegan, it appears someone in a leadership role at the tribe filed motions not only to seal the file in the case, but to try to close the courtroom during the proceedings. Judge Guernsey declined to comment because he did not preside over the case. And while it appears the effort to close the courtroom went nowhere, and the case file may be unsealed following a hearing this Friday, the knee-jerk reaction by some tribal officials to block access is disconcerting.

The Mohegan Tribe has long prided itself on its open and good government relations. Tribal leaders place that reputation at risk by trying to close courts. As with any court, tribal judges should rarely use their power to close records or proceedings and only for legitimate purposes.

Openness and access guarantee that justice is unfettered.

Rather than restricting access, the Mohegans should improve it, making it easier for interested parties to get to the courtroom in the tribal offices and to view the courts' dockets.