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Judge’s ruling keeps Navajo leader away from post

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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