FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. A law firm that secured convictions against a former Navajo Nation president has been hired to take over the prosecution of a civil case that accuses dozens of Navajo officials of defrauding the tribal government.
The first task for the Rothstein Law Firm, which has offices in New Mexico and Arizona, will be to review the civil complaint that lists former and current Navajo lawmakers, attorneys general and the tribes controller among the 85 defendants. The firm also will take over investigations of a tribal ranch program and look into allegations of illegal and unethical conduct in business deals.
These cases need to be resolved fairly as they have created uncertainty for the Navajo government and for those involved, the firm said in a statement released to The Associated Press.
The tribes Department of Justice announced last week that it had hired the law firm on a one-year contract.
The law firm succeeds Alan Balaran, who spent 18 months on the investigations. Criminal charges he filed against almost all the lawmakers in the previous Tribal Council were replaced with the civil complaint that cast a wider net.
A judicial panel decided against renewing Balarans contract, which expired Sept. 30, but tribal justice officials said he has agreed to help with the transition of the cases.
Navajo Deputy Attorney General Dana Bobroff said her office supports the appointment by a judicial panel responsible for naming special prosecutors. She said those proven to have engaged in wrongdoing will be held accountable and those who havent will have a chance to clear their names.
The law firm was the first hired under the special prosecutor law enacted in response to the political turmoil involving former tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald. Its attorneys undertook three prosecutions of MacDonald in the early 1990s on tribal charges, two of which ended with guilty verdicts. The Tribal Council later pardoned him.
While special prosecutors have investigated MacDonald and other Navajo leaders, this is the first probe that targets members of the Tribal Council. Balaran alleged that the defendants personally benefited from $36 million in discretionary funds or failed to regulate the funding meant for elderly tribal members, student scholarships or others facing significant hardships.
Balaran was called outsider and faced opposition in obtaining tribal documents, along with being accused by some lawmakers of shoddy investigative work. Balaran recognized the contentious relationship but said the defendants clearly broke the law and shouldnt get away with it.
David Jordan, who represents about 30 clients in the civil case, said he is expecting the law firm will handle any prosecution cautiously and reasonably. At least two members of the law firm Eric Dahlstrom and Richard Hughes were long-standing members of the Navajo Nation Bar Association, which requires training in Navajo law and culture. Dahlstrom served as the tribes deputy attorney general from 1987 through 1991.
They come in with knowledge of Navajo law that Alan Balaran did not have, Jordan said. They come in with the required cultural training, years of experience dealing with Navajo institutions and government. They come in with established relationships with people. I think it will be handled with a lot more responsibility.