Despite judge’s ruling, tribe won’t drop dispute with law firm

RIVERTON — Days after being sanctioned by a Wyoming District Court Judge for violating the state’s civil conduct rules, the Northern Arapaho Tribe’s leaders vowed Thursday to continue the fight against their former law firm, Baldwin Crocker and Rudd. 

Wyoming District Court Judge Thomas Campbell wrote in a Monday filing that the tribe’s accusation that the law firm had wrongfully retained $1 million in tribal funds was “improper.”

Campbell then ordered the tribe, whose suit was propelled by the Northern Arapaho Business Council majority, to drop the accusation and pay all of BCR’s attorneys’ fees, within 45 days of the filing. 

Unofficial estimates place BCR’s attorneys’ fees at between $30,000- $50,000. 

The NABC majority dispatched an announcement Thursday via spokesman Matthew Benson, which disputed the judge’s decision. 

“This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a judicial ruling go against our Tribe for reasons with which we strongly disagree,” he wrote. 

Some elements of the suit remain to be adjudicated, such as the whereabouts of documents the tribe claimed BCR withheld. 

The statement also highlighted Judge Campbell’s decision to drop BCR’s counterclaims against the tribe. 

When accused last summer of retaining $1 million in tribal funds, BCR retorted with a counterclaim alleging that tribal leadership had broken its legal contract with the firm and had failed to act in “good faith and fair dealing.” 

Although Campbell wrote in his recent order that the accusation of BCR’s withholding of the $1 million “could not have been true” when the suit was filed, the judge was unable to address BCR’s bad faith claims against the tribe, due to a lack of jurisdiction over the sovereign nation.

“As a sovereign Nation,” wrote Campbell, “the Tribe is immune from suit” unless the tribe has agreed to give up that immunity in a waiver. 

BCR argued that because the tribe sued their firm in court, it then could be countersued in the same court, but Campbell disagreed. 

The judge wrote that the tribe’s sovereignty blocked the court’s subject matter jurisdiction. 

“This is a victory for the entire Northern Arapaho Tribe,” reads the portion of NABC press release referencing the dropped counterclaim. 

Campbell had written that even though the court lacked jurisdiction over the countersuit due to sovereignty, BCR’s contract with the entity still allowed for disputes to be settled via arbitration.

BCR attorneys did not comment on whether the firm will pursue arbitration for the alleged bad-faith dealing.