Judge's ruling keeps Navajo leader away from post

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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A Navajo Nation judge has rejected a request by the tribe's legislative leader to strike down a bill that placed him on paid administrative leave and chided lawmakers who walked out before a vote was taken.

The Navajo Nation Council stripped Speaker Johnny Naize of his administrative duties in April, months after he was charged with bribery and conspiracy in a criminal case. Naize challenged his colleagues' decision, saying it was invalid and denied him due process.

Window Rock District Judge Carol Perry disagreed. She wrote in an order Friday that due process was afforded when the Tribal Council discussed a bill to remove Naize from the post in executive session. It was amended to place him on indefinite leave as a compromise, some lawmakers said, because Naize's criminal case is pending in tribal court.

Nothing in Navajo statutory law speaks directly to placing the speaker on leave, but Perry said the council is able to draw from a traditional set of laws to balance its interest of having a speaker in good standing with the Navajo Nation as a whole.

One of Naize's attorneys, Troy Eid, said the speaker was reviewing the ruling and assessing the next steps. Perry's ruling can be appealed to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court.

In her eight-page ruling, Perry also said she was concerned that some lawmakers walked out of the council chambers without deciding on Naize's future as speaker. She cited legislative history that states absenteeism is disrespectful. Lawmakers have a duty to represent their constituents and part on a positive note, she said.

"The people need to trust that participation on their behalf will occur," she said.

Naize's challenge was referred to peacemaking court, a traditional method of dispute resolution. The case was sent back to Perry because not all parties agreed to meet and talk through their differences.

For now, Naize retains his seat on as a delegate on the Tribal Council, representing parts of Arizona. His term ends in January, and he is not seeking re-election this year. Speaker Pro Tem LoRenzo Bates said Friday that the council respects its duties and responsibilities and will continue to address issues facing Navajo people.

Naize has denied wrongdoing in the criminal case. Prosecutors have accused him of engaging in a scheme to divert public money to the families of his colleagues in exchange for his family receiving tens of thousands of dollars.

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