Native Sun News: South Dakota man feels victimized by law firm
The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk. All content © Native Sun News.

SAINT FRANCIS, SOUTH DAKOTA — The ad read, “Tamaki Law is dedicated to fighting for the rights of Native American clients in state, federal and tribal courts. If you or a family member or friend suffered sexual or physical abuse in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska or Wyoming at a reservation mission school or parish dating back to the 1940’s to present. Stand up for your rights, come forward, fight back, hold your abuser accountable. Contact us, we are here to listen.”

Now a sexual abuse victim believes he has been “victimized” by Tamaki Law. When Darrell Marcus, Sicangu Lakota from the Rosebud Indian Reservation saw the ad in Native Sun News from Tamaki Law, he was elated and thought finally there would be retribution for the physical and sexual abuse perpetrated against him by individuals who worked at St. Francis Indian Mission School. Marcus, who has served as Rosebud Sioux Tribe District 4 (Ring Thunder/ Soldier Creek) council representative, said he did everything he could to contact the Law Firm.

Through a series of phone calls and interviews Marcus made the necessary connections to Tamaki Law and enlisted as a plaintiff in the case against the Sisters of Saint Francis Mission and looked forward to having his day in court. Marcus said he even helped Tamaki Law recruit other clients by navigating them through the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and escorting them to KILI Radio where they could solicit more clients.

Then Marcus received what he described as a “bomb,” a letter dated Oct. 27, 2010 just days after Tamaki Law was scheduled to argue motions to dismiss filed by attorneys representing the defendants.

Motions to dismiss were filed they said based on the fact that he was identified by his initials, rather than his full name and others based upon the statute of limitations deadline.

The Oct. 27 letter stated,” I regret that our local counsel in South Dakota, Gregory Yates & Associates, has informed us that they will be withdrawing as your counsel. Because Mr. Yates is the only firm with whom we are associated, Tamaki Law can no longer represent you.”

“I feel like a bomb was dropped on me,” Marcus said. “I feel like I have been taken advantage of, like I was used by them. I am pretty lost; I don’t know how to handle it. How can they just throw somebody away like a piece of meat?” Marcus said he would like to apologize to the Oglala people for bringing the Washington state based law firm onto their turf.

“They are trying to make me look like a liar. I led these people onto the Indian reservation. It is unsika (pitiful) people like me that don’t know the ramifications of being taken,” he said.

However the letter encourages Marcus to contact other counsel in South Dakota that represent abuse survivors against the church.

Tamaki Law Attorney Bryan G. Smith said that he could not comment on the case based on attorney-client privilege.

“I can tell you in general that law firms have to take cases based on the merit of each individual case. They can’t simply take a case just because the client wants to hire a law firm and it doesn’t mean the law firm has to go forward with that case. They have to look at the merit of the claim,” he said.

Smith said the story does not appear to be anything of public interest and is a private matter.

“To me this is not a news story; this is just a private matter between a law firm and a client,” Smith said. “I can’t comment on Darrel’s case. He is welcome to speak to you, but I am not.”

Native Sun Publisher Tim Giago is extremely bothered by the arrogance of attorney Smith. He said, “Tamaki Law Firm got into the case of child abuse on Indian reservations without having a clue as to how to approach the matter. They were in it way over their heads to start with and are still going in every direction except the right one. Cases of child abuse by the clergy of the Catholic Church began several years ago and case after case was either settled out of court for huge sums of money or the Catholic dioceses lost in court, paid huge settlements and in some cases, they then filed for bankruptcy."

Giago continued, "The abuse cases involving Native Americans are much more complex because of jurisdiction questions. When the state of South Dakota passed a bill posting a statute of limitations on these cases the Tamaki lawyers should have noticed immediately that these abuses took place on federal reservation lands, not on state lands and adjusted their cases accordingly. They apparently did not.”

“I don’t think there will ever be justice for the hundreds of Native Americans who suffered abuse at the hands of the Catholic clergy because most of them have died off by now. Smith isn’t protecting client/attorney privacy because Mr. Marcus has spoken out about it thereby negating his privacy in the matter,” Giago said. The NSN editor and publisher has been writing about the abuse of Indian children at the Indian missions for more than 30 years.

Smith said that his firm has moved forward in the court system with several other sexual abuse cases.

“We have numerous lawsuits. There are three separate lawsuits with upwards of forty different plaintiffs that are being represented by our firm,” he said.

Smith agreed that sexual abuse is a sensitive subject to talk about and said that it was unfortunate that Marcus is trying to make it difficult for his law firm, “When we just tried to be straight with him from the beginning.”

Marcus has since spoken to other counsel interested in taking his case.

HB 1104
Last March South Dakota HB 1104 passed the House 52-14 and the Senate 26-7 and was signed by Gov. Mike Rounds on March 29, 2010.

The legislation was crafted by a former defense attorney for Saint Joseph Indian School, Steve Smith of Chamberlain and was sponsored by Rep. Thomas Deadrick, Sen. Cooper Garnos, and Rep. Kent Juhnke. HB 1104 states that any abuse victims over the age of 40 can sue only the individuals who abused them and not churches, schools or other institutions with which an abuser was associated.

Opponents of the bill state that while other states are extending or eliminating statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, only South Dakota - a state where the majority of victims are Native American - has made it more difficult for victims to come forward.

Opponents also say the law unfairly limits the ability of child sexual abuse victims to recover damages from the institutions that employed their abusers.

Smith said he proposed the bill because lawyers from California and Florida have been trying in recent years to construct massive class-action lawsuits from throughout Indian Country by recruiting former boarding school students and others who said they were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of faculty, staff and clergy. Some of that abuse occurred as long ago as before World War II he said.

“I hate con men,” he said. “That’s what this is pointed at.”

(Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at: