The “Transparency” Lawsuits  – Part Two

In the “Brief in Chief” lawsuit document (listed in Article sidebar) that was filed in the Cherokee Supreme court, attorney Chad Smith says the case against the administration can be simply summed up as “Why won’t Hembree allow Coates to copy his thumb drive of supposedly responsive documents to her requests onto her thumb drive? The copying would take a few minutes and cost less than $10.”

Some interesting things to gather from the “Brief in Chief” document.

  • 6,400 pages of information was not given to Coates. It was 6,400 pages of information on a computer that was available to be viewed and analyzed under supervision of the Attorney General.
  • Of that 6,400 pages of information, most of what Coates requested was not there. And if any information was to be taken out of the room, it had to be written down by hand.
  • The confidentiality issue became very murky for Coates and Smith because none of the pages were marked as confidential or not.
  • Coates’ lawsuit was directed at six respondents who were represented by twelve lawyers and four law firms.
  • Some of the defendants rejected the lawsuit because of how their request letter for information was addressed. Because Bill John Baker’s name was listed at top and their names were listed under “cc” they claim they were not required to fulfill the requests. Some did anyway, but still claimed the lawsuit was invalid.
  • One point that seems comical. Under Cherokee Nation law, Smith states that council members are criminally liable for disclosing confidential documents with a penalty of going to jail. But, he asks, what is the point of the law if no council member can get a copy of confidential documents?

For many Cherokees, this lawsuit calls into question bigger issues than copying a handful of records. It brings up questions about the administration’s commitment to transparency and openness.

From looking at this lawsuit, some Cherokees will ask:

Can the cost for buying large multi-million dollar tracts of land can be hidden from Cherokee Officials and citizens? Can “perks” given to Cherokee Officials go unknown? Can Cherokee officials use tribal money in their campaigns for re-election? Can the administration rightfully claim the high cost of time and money prevents them from copying documents if all it takes is a $10 flash drive.

Other Cherokees will ask:

Are there confidential records that need to be hidden so as to protect economic strategies that benefit the Cherokee Nation? Can the Nation allow nuisance requests that drain resources? Can we allow personal vendettas to flourish under the guise of requesting records? Can people to use financial information for the sole purpose of political attacks?

This case is still pending. As of July 17, 2014, the Supreme Court hearing has not been scheduled.


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