Tuesday, September 15, 2009

State Attorney General Signs With Victim In Mohegan Liability Court Case

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The Tribe's sovereignty may be further defined in a state appeals court action that will challenge whether the Tribe can continue to claim sovereign immunity from state court action in cases involving casino customers who have been over-served alcohol that resulted in accidents after they left the casino.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed a brief supporting the position of the family of Emily Vanstaen-Holland, who was 16 when she was hit while walking along the side of a Quaker Hill road about two years ago in October 2007. The driver is alleged to be Glenn Lavigne, a former Tribal Councilor who had been drinking at the casino that night with a friend.

The case is against the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, Tribal officials and Lavigne and seeks monetary damages.

The attorney representing the Vanstaen-Holland family, Michael Reardon, said, "Since tribes have to obtain and apply for liquor permits, our position is they submit to the jurisdiction of the state courts." Reardon has previously said publicly that he would not go into a tribal court.

Mr. Blumenthal said, "Tribal casinos are not immune from the state's Dram Shop Act and other laws that bar reckless dispensing of alcohol." He is asking the appellate court to overturn a trial court ruling that ... held that tribal casinos are exempt from certain liquor laws intended to protect the public safety, according to his press release.

Will the Tribe fight the appeal? Or will the Tribe decide not to fight for the Tribe's sovereignty because it would result in an embarrassing public trial of a former Tribal official. It is believed that unlimited drinks are available for free to former councilors and their guests in parts of the casino. So far, the Tribe hasn't yielded from its position that those harmed by accidents caused by drunk drivers can take up the matter in tribal court.

Although the Tribe maintains that they can be sued in Tribal Court, Blumenthal said, "Generally there are limits in tribal courts as to how much can be recovered and the rights are different procedurally and rules of evidence and other legal procedures are different. The rights of innocent victims can be vindicated in state court under more effective protections provided by state law. An innocent victim whose life is irreparably and often brutally altered by a drunk driving crash should have rights in state court where a jury can assess the facts and a judge can decide the law."

Later in the day, according to The Day newspaper, Lavigne, 49, accepted a plea and "was sentenced to five years in prison suspended after two years served, followed by three years probation for felony evading responsibilty.