Nooksack Tribe bars lawyer for ‘306’ facing disenrollment

Native American lawyer Gabriel Galanda, center, listens to Nooksack members talk about disenrollment. The Nooksack tribe has banned Galanda, who has represented members in their fight against disenrollment for three years, from practicing in its courts.
Native American lawyer Gabriel Galanda, center, listens to Nooksack members talk about disenrollment. The Nooksack tribe has banned Galanda, who has represented members in their fight against disenrollment for three years, from practicing in its courts. TNS

A judge has affirmed that Nooksack Indian Tribe members facing disenrollment may vote in tribal elections, but the news was met with mixed emotions as the group simultaneously learned its lawyers had been barred from the tribe’s court.

On Feb. 29, Nooksack Tribal Court Judge Susan Alexander ruled that the tribe, which had asked she reconsider her Jan. 26 order on the same matter, had still failed to show the potential disenrollees should be prevented from voting in the 2016 tribal council elections because they may be disenrolled in the future.

In an interview, Nooksack Chairman Bob Kelly said the tribe has “not been able to establish whether or not (the disenrollees) are Native Americans or not and we don’t think that they’re Native American.”

Members of the three families facing disenrollment, who call themselves the Nooksack 306, contend that they are rightful members of the tribe.

The 306 said they found out about Alexander’s Feb. 29 ruling when two of their relatives listed in the case received copies in the mail a few days after it was issued.

Normally, court documents had been sent to their lawyer, Gabe Galanda, or someone at his firm, Galanda Broadman. But five days before the ruling, on Feb. 24, the tribal council had passed a resolution to disbar Galanda Broadman from Nooksack Tribal Court. Galanda’s firm has represented most of the 306 since 2013.

“So they sent the ruling through the mail,” said Michelle Roberts, one of those facing disenrollment. “That’s how we figured out Gabe was being disbarred or banned. It was kind of a win-loss thing that day. Enjoy your win, but now we don’t know if we’re going to be able to represent you.”

Business license dispute

On hearing that the firm might be expected to get a business license from Nooksack in order to practice there, Galanda emailed the tribe on Feb. 24 asking about the potential to be excluded based on a lack of a current business license.

As forwarded to The Bellingham Herald, Galanda wrote that he was told there was no business license form at that time, and any $100 fee for the license would be subject to acceptance.

The firm sent a check for $100 and a letter to the tribe’s Chief Financial officer Joe Mace on Feb. 26 (an electronic copy of the letter was provided to The Herald).

272 Number of Nooksack tribal members facing disenrollment that Gabe Galanda represented

“We understand that on Wednesday, February 24, 2016, the Tribal Council convened some Special Meeting during which is (sic) resuscitated Resolution No. 83-487 and Title 54, which had not been enforced at Nooksack over the last 30-plus years,” the letter reads.

In a letter dated Feb. 29, which Galanda Broadman stamped received March 2, Mace replied, “We have enclosed your check #1732, in the amount of $100.00, and are not able to issue the requested license.”

Seeking documents

On behalf of herself, Roberts filed motions with the court to try to get copies of any resolutions or laws that banned, excluded or expelled her lawyers, and requested copies of other changes that had been made to tribal code.

Galanda also had tried to file motions on the matter as he had not been able to confirm his status, but Alexander wrote in a Monday, March 7, order that the court could not file documents from Galanda or other attorneys at his firm in light of the Feb. 24 resolution. Roberts provided a copy of the order to The Bellingham Herald.

According to the order, the resolution effectively converted all 272 named plaintiffs to “pro se” litigants — people who are defending themselves.

Roberts attached copies of emails “in which Mr. Galanda frantically sought information from Defendants’ counsel, Tribal administration, and this Court regarding rumored action by the Tribal Council against him and his law firm,” the March 7 order states.

“The fact that Ms. Roberts makes the request and that Mr. Galanda made the inquiries suggests a lack of notice and opportunity to be heard in connection with Resolution #16-28 barring Mr. Galanda and other attorneys at Galanda Broadman from practicing in the Nooksack Tribal Court and from engaging in business on Nooksack Tribal lands,” the order states.

Alexander goes on to state the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 says that “No Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws or deprive any person of liberty or property without due process of law.”

Along with a response to Roberts’ motion, Alexander ordered the tribe to describe what due process Galanda and attorneys in his firm had been given in connection with the resolution.

“At this time the Court simply wishes to know, factually, what notice and opportunity to be heard were afforded Mr. Galanda and other attorneys in the Galanda Broadman law firm,” the order states.

Roberts said she is making calls to other attorneys in the meantime.

Disbarment claims

On Tuesday, Kelly emailed The Bellingham Herald a portion of the resolution to bar Galanda and his firm from engaging in business on Nooksack tribal land or practicing in Nooksack Tribal Court. He declined to send the full document.

According to the language provided, the tribe claimed in the resolution that Galanda, while serving as a pro tem judge at the Quinault Indian Nation in 2012 and 2013, had written an opinion on a case that had been sent back from the tribe’s court of appeals for further work.

The tribe claims Galanda ruled that a 1908 U.S. Supreme Court case known as “Ex Parte Young” applied in that instance. Ex Parte Young allows, in certain instances, lawsuits against officials who were acting on behalf of a state, despite the state’s sovereign immunity.

The tribe claims that on the same day Galanda issued his opinion in Quinault Tribal Court, he cited “that void opinion as precedence” in the Nooksack Tribal Court case St. Germain v. Kelly.

The tribe also claims, “Mr. Galanda has committed numerous other unethical acts before the Nooksack Tribal Court, including but not limited to, misrepresenting factual and legal authority, filing and serving pleadings after the deadline set forth in Title 10, (with one such incident resulting in his clients losing a right of appeal), either intentionally or negligently making misleading statements to the Court and knowingly making false accusations in a pleading against opposing counsel,” according to the language Kelly provided.

Bar hearing

Galanda said he has never been disciplined in any other court.

In a Tuesday, March 8, letter to Alexander “not intended to constitute the practice of law or transaction of any business before the Nooksack Tribal Court or within the jurisdiction of the Nooksack Indian Tribe,” Galanda and partner Anthony Broadman wrote that they are obligated to report that they have been barred from Nooksack to the Washington State Bar Association and the Oregon State Bar, as well as other tribal court bars to which they are admitted.

“The (Washington State Bar Association) advises us that we will almost certainly be subject to show cause disciplinary proceedings before the Washington State Supreme Court as a result of the defense’s actions,” Galanda and Broadman wrote.

The two request courtesy copies of filings from the court “in order to gauge harm and impact to the reputation of the firm and our attorneys” and to make sure they are following reporting requirements they have as attorneys.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil