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Native Sun News: Rosebud court asserts authority over utility

Filed Under: Business | Law | National
More on: elections, energy, jurisdiction, native sun news, rosebud sioux, south dakota, tribal courts
   

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Managing Editor. All content © Native Sun News.


An electric power line provided by Cherry-Todd Electric Coop crosses the Niobrara River. Courtesy/Cherry-Todd Electric Coop

Court favors RST over Cherry Todd Electric
If ruling stands jurisdiction could have national implications
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor

ROSEBUD — Judge Sherman Marshall, Chief Judge of the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Court, ruled last week that the tribe can exercise jurisdiction of Cherry Todd Electric by denying a motion from the company to have a case brought against it dismissed in tribal court.

The suit that was brought against the electric company (that is based off the reservation) may have major implications for how energy distributors are governed on reservation lands. The plaintiffs in the suit filed several complaints against Cherry Todd including claims that Cherry Todd had practiced voting policies during the election of board members that adversely impacted the voting power of Native American voters, that non-Indian cooperative members were given multiple ballots, and that the counting of ballots cast were done in secret without oversight from members of the cooperative that include members of the tribe. The voting process that is being challenged by tribal members Rose Cordier, Ann-Erika White Bird and Shawn Bordeaux involves the election of an 8 person board in the company. Although nearly 80% of those being served by Cherry Todd are Native American only one member of the elected board is of Native descent.

“There was never a doubt in the minds of the plaintiffs that the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Court was the appropriate venue to hear this case. Now we can move forward in our quest for justice for the people of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe,” said Ann-Erika Whitebird one of the plaintiffs in the case.

In an interview with Rich Winter of the Todd County Tribune, Tribal Utilities Commissioner Dan Gargan relayed why the court ruled to deny the motion to dismiss which was based on if two legal tests were satisfied.

“As a component of this case, the court found that Cherry Todd is the sole provider of Electric Power on this Reservation,” Gargan said. “The cooperative provides electrical services to the tribe and that has some direct effect on the political integrity, economic security and health and welfare of the tribe.”

The other aspect of the legal test that needed to be satisfied for tribal court to have jurisdiction to rule on the matter was if there was a consensual relationship between the tribe and the company and ruled that there was in fact one solidified through the business license that Cherry Todd was operating under on the reservation.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribal council voted to join the tribal members in the suit against Cherry Todd after the court’s ruling last week. In a press release from Commissioner Daniel Gargan he said that the tribe would be looking to pursue other complaints against the electric provider.

“The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, in a unanimous show of support by its Tribal Council, last week voted to join the lawsuit. Now that the Tribe has entered the case, additional claims are being pursued against Cherry Todd that include theft and destruction of tribal timber, overcharging electric customers, and imposing predatory fees for late payments and disconnects/reconnects. The Tribe is also investigating complaints of customers being disconnected from electric service during winter months, in direct violation of Title 20 of the Rosebud Law and Order Code,” he said.

The lawsuit will be prosecuted by the tribe’s utility commission. Cherry Todd is expected to appeal the decision to the Rosebud Sioux Supreme Court as legal precedent has established that it must prior to appealing to Federal court off the reservation.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at staffwriter2@nsweekly.com)

Related Stories:
Native Sun News: Utility faces lawsuit in Rosebud Sioux court (2/11)


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