One more step

The Intertribal Court of Appeals last Friday removed one obstacle to the members of the Winnemucca Indian Colony regaining control of their colony.

The Intertribal Court of Appeals last Friday removed one obstacle to the members of the Winnemucca Indian Colony regaining control of their colony.

The court, sitting in Reno, dismissed a motion by Reno attorney Don Pope to grant a default judgment to his client or clients.

In 1996, William Bills was accepted by colony members, who believed he was Native American. He is Filipino. By the time information on his birth and background came out, he was on the tribal council. In 2000, shortly before the council was set to decide on taking Bills’ name off tribal rolls, council chair Glenn Wasson was murdered, and vice chair Bills succeeded to the top spot. Since then, the colony has drifted between factions. The bank that holds the colony account has frozen it until the dispute is resolved. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs does not recognize any tribal government.

William Bills had been represented by Pope, but at last week’s hearing, Bills sent a different attorney, Sarah Lawson, a member of an Arizona firm specializing in tribal cases.

The original tribal council was represented by Treva Hearne. That put three lawyers in the courtoom. Although Hearne’s and Lawson’s clients have been in an adversarial posture up to now, they were more or less in agreement at the hearing. Pope argued that Hearne’s clients had failed to provide a list of colony members as previously ordered and that his clients should therefore be granted a default motion.

But Hearne said the list had been provided, and one of the members of the three-judge court said he had a copy of it. Hearne further argued that Pope had no standing to appear in the matter since he no longer had a client.

“Mr. Pope doesn’t represent my client,” Lawson said.

“Mr. Pope has no interest in these proceedings,” Hearne added.

But Pope said he still represented a different group, which claims to be the present colony council. Hearne called the election of that council an unauthorized attempt by a member of the Lovelock Paiute Tribe to take over the Winnemucca colony.

That prompted Lawson to note that Pope could not represent Bills because in some ways, Bills’ interests were in conflict with Pope’s other clients in the case—"[H]e has interests in opposition to William Bills.”

In the end, Chief Judge Gary Bass of Seattle announced for the court that it was denying Pope’s motion. But the three judges stopped there. Hearne had wanted them to go further and rule that with the motion denied, there were no further legal proceedings and that her clients were free to reorganize the colony.

“The motion for default is denied,” Bass said. “There is no further ruling.”

It was not made clear what the colony members must now do to retake control of the colony, and the uncertainty did not escape notice. Twice during the hearing, Judge Bass commented on the convoluted history of the 6-year-old case. At one point, Pope argued that a previous order by U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben had been wrong in part because McKibben was confused by the case.

“In view of the history of this litigation, most any judge would be confused,” Bass responded.