Glendale Officials Ordered to Pay Tohono O'odham Nation's Legal Fees Racked Up as City Continues to Oppose Tribe's Resort-Style Casino

The Arizona Supreme Court ordered the City of Glendale to pay legal fees incurred by the Tohono O'odham Nation during court battles related to the city's opposition to tribal plans for a resort-style casino near the city.

The latest batch of legal fees are more than $25,000, and that, added to previous court decisions in favor of the Nation, puts the grand total $85,497.96 for fees and costs.

That doesn't include what the city has spent on its own legal and related fees.

Glendale officials directed New Times' requests for comment to Scutari and Cieslak Public Relations, the firm hired by Glendale to represent the city on matters involving the Tohono O'odham Nation.

No one from the firm has returned calls seeking comment.

There are several legal issues that Glendale has raised in its opposition to the Tohono O'odham plans for a casino on a pocket of land in unincorporated Maricopa County near 91st and Northern avenues.
Glendale argued in court that the land where the Nation wants to build the casino is within the city limits, and not eligible to become part of the Nation's reservation, and thus, ineligible as a casino site.

The feds disagreed and took the land into trust, that is, plan to deem the land an reservation.

And the Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling, and declared that the Nation's lands are in unincorporated Maricopa County -- not in Glendale. The Arizona Supreme Court refused to review the case.

Glendale officials haven't had much luck in court, and so they have engaged Arizona's state and federal lawmakers to create tailor-made laws that would block the Nation's casino/resort plants.

Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a measure that was meant to derail that Nation's plans. Russell Pearce, the disgraced and now former Arizona Senate president, tried to join a lawsuit to stop the tribe from building the casino, but a judge found he had no legal standing in the case.

And the latest attempt to kill the casino comes from Trent Franks, the Arizona Congressman who floated House Resolution 2938, an anti-casino measure to block the Tohono O'odham Nation from using their land for certain types of gaming.

Franks testimony included the following: "... the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act -- the law that governs tribal gaming-- says that Las Vegas style gaming on lands acquired after October 1988 may only occur under a compact between the Indian tribe and the state. The Tohono O'odham Nation has broken the compact into which it entered, thereby rendering the proposed casino in violation of the 1988 law."

What Franks fails to mention is that the very federal act that he cites allows for certain exceptions, including instances where "lands are taken into trust as part of ... a settlement of a land claim." (See Sec. 2719. Gaming on lands acquired after October 17, 1988)

The same exception is repeated in Proposition 202, approved by voters in 2002. While that Arizona law limits Indian gaming to existing reservations, it allows casinos on new reservations as long as they fit the guidelines in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

A land claim is exactly what the Tohono O'odham Nation adamantly says it has: an act of Congress that settles a claim for nearly 10,000 acres of land the tribe was forced to relinquish.

"Glendale's misguided opposition has not only delayed the creation of thousands of new jobs in the West Valley, but the decisions of its political leaders continue to come at great cost to taxpayers," says Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. of the Tohono O'odham Nation, in a press release. "The Nation will continue its efforts to work with the community and remains committed to moving forward with this important economic development project."

Nation officials report that the West Valley Resort is expected to draw 1.2 million people to the West Valley each year and have a $300 million annual economic impact. They also estimate that more than 9,000 jobs will be created during its construction and the day-to-day operations.

Read "Wanna Bet?" a New Times' feature on the Nation's land claim, promises the feds made to the Tohono O'odham Nation and how the Tucson-area tribe ended up with land in the West Valley.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo