Woman faces jail time for allegedly telling lies

Patty Hicks

Patty Hicks

A 60-year-old grandmother of 12 and great-grandmother of one is looking at six months in jail and a $5,000 fine for allegedly telling lies. She is charged with a crime most people would call unconstitutional, but since she’s a Native American, those folks would be wrong.

Patty Hicks, who stands accused of criminal defamation, is expected for trial at 11 a.m. on Feb. 9 in Walker River Paiute Tribal Court in Schurz, near Walker Lake. The Walker River Paiute Tribe occupies the third-largest reservation in the state, with more than 355,000 acres.

Defamation is essentially making a false statement that injures somebody’s reputation. Libel and slander are two versions of it. In the United States, criminal defamation, with its attendant jail time, has been mostly eradicated, since the courts have found it to be in violation of the First Amendment. Civil defamation is another matter, and the law allows for civil lawsuits and financial punishments against people who tell lies that hurt other people’s reputations. Native American tribes, however, as sovereign nations, have their own laws.

Hicks says the charges were brought against her in order to stop a recall petition, which she brought against Victoria Guzman, tribal chairwoman, and Elveda Martinez, who works at the Water Resources Department. On the recall petitions and in subsequent e-mails, Hicks called into question the financial competence and ethics of the women. She claims the tribe has taken millions from the federal government for various projects and has nothing to show for it. She has called for a full audit of the tribe’s finances.

“They want to silence me,” she said. “That’s why they want to scare me. In our law and order code, there’s a civil defamation and there’s a criminal defamation. They chose the criminal defamation because they want me locked up.”

At deadline, Guzman had not returned a call for comment.