District Court rules Baker can run for re-election, Crittenden can’t

BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Former Reporter
04/10/2018 01:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH – District Court Judge Luke Barteaux ruled on April 6 that Principal Chief Bill John Baker is eligible for re-election in 2019, while Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden isn’t.

The ruling stems from a Feb. 19 petition by Cherokee Nation citizen David Cornsilk, who asked the court to overturn Attorney General Todd Hembree’s opinion that states Baker and Crittenden were eligible for re-election.

Hembree’s opinion states Baker and Crittenden were eligible in 2019 despite winning elections in 2011 and 2015. He states because of an appeal of the 2011 principal chief’s election, which delayed Baker taking office until October, both officials were denied full four-year terms.

Barteaux’s ruling states Baker is eligible in 2019 because the language detailing principal chief term limits “must be read in conjunction with each other” just as a citizen would have done before voting to incorporate them into the 1999 CN Constitution.

The Constitution states the principal chief “shall hold office for a term of four (4) years. No person having been elected to the office of Principal Chief in two (2) consecutive elections shall be eligible to file for the office of Principal Chief in the election next following his or her second term of office.”

Barteaux states that before ratifying term limits in 1999, citizens “would have read and understood the plain meaning of the term limit language to be that an elected Principal Chief would hold office for a full four (4) year term, and up to two (2) full four (4) year terms consecutively.”

The ruling concluded that Baker’s swearing in on Oct. 19, 2011, instead of August 14, 2011, was “due to no fault of his own” after the race was appealed and that he remains “eligible for reelection.” Using an analogy from Cornsilk’s petition, Barteaux writes that if a movie theater sold a ticket and the person arrived on time, but the theater “started the movie halfway through instead of at the beginning then you would be able to demand another ticket.”

Barteaux also cited the CN Constitution in ruling Crittenden ineligible.

“In case of the absence of the Principal Chief from office due to death, resignation, removal or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the office, the same shall devolve upon the Deputy Principal Chief for the remaining portion of the four (4) year term to which the Principal Chief had been elected,” the Constitution states.

The ruling concludes Crittenden “assumed the office of Principal Chief pursuant to Article VII, Section 4, in faithful discharge of his duties as Deputy Principal Chief” while Baker had to await the results of the appeal. Due to this transference of power, Barteaux writes Crittenden “completed his first four (4) year term of office four years later without any loss of time from his first term, and is now in his second consecutive four (4) year term.”

Hembree said his office is considering whether to appeal Barteaux’s ruling regarding Crittenden. “My comment is that we appreciate the well thought out and reasoned opinion of Judge Barteaux. We are assessing options as to whether our intent is to appeal part of the order.”

Cornsilk said although he agrees with the Crittenden ruling, he plans to appeal the ruling regarding Baker. “I do want to make sure that when we get to the Supreme Court that I’m able to make an argument that there is a difference between the situation of the principal chief and the deputy chief. I’m not an attorney, and I may be interpreting everything wrong, but I really believe that a constitution should be read the way a common man would understand it, and I’m about as common of a man as there is.”

Barteaux’s ruling also confirmed Tribal Councilor Victoria Vasquez’s eligibility to run for another term in 2019 because her first term in 2013 was a special election, not a general election, and thus does not count against term limits.

Click here toread the court ruling.

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