Sides prepare to appeal Cayuga claim
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A federal judge on Monday approved a request by the state of New York to hold back paying a $247.9 million land claim award to the Cayuga Nation while an appeal and potential settlement of the long-running dispute is pursued.

Over the objections of the Cayuga Nation of New York and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, U.S. District Judge Neal P. McCurn granted the state's move to delay the payment. Citing the potential impact on taxpayers, he agreed to stay the judgment he made last fall.

"[I]mmediate payment of this nearly $250 million judgment would seriously prejudice state taxpayers," McCurn wrote.

McCurn added that paying the tribes could result in more problems later on. If the case is reversed or the award is changed, the tribes might have difficulty repaying the money, he said.

At the same time, he agreed to let the case proceed without the state posting bond on the claim. The tribes wanted assurances they would get their money sometime down the line but McCurn said he trusted the state.

And against the wishes of the tribes, McCurn sided with the Bush administration and removed private property owners from the claim. The landowners are still part of the case but won't be forced to pay awards or forfeit land because they "acquired their property in good faith," he wrote.

McCurn's actions yesterday come in response to a flurry of recent activity in the long-running lawsuit. He has ruled that the state illegally transferred 64,000 acres of tribal land without the approval of the federal government.

On that basis, McCurn in October 2001 determined the tribe deserved the $250 million for the transgression. He added interest to a $36.9 million jury award the tribes felt was too low but the state thought was overly exaggerated.

As such, the tribes and the state are seeking to appeal the judgment in some form. In his latest round of decisions, McCurn gives the parties 60 days to seek review of the case.

The delay also gives the state and the tribes to work out a settlement. Gov. George Pataki (R) has been aggressively pursuing resolution of the Cayuga and other claims in exchange for gaming facilities.

In the case of the Cayuga, there haven't been concrete plans for the tribe to open a casino in the Catskills region of New York where three are up for grabs. But the Cayuga of New York have asked Pataki not to include their Oklahoma relatives in any settlement discussions.

In addition to his other rulings, McCurn yesterday rejected a tribal request to add interest in the time period between the jury's February 2000 verdict and his subsequent ruling. He said the tribes have received "full and just compensation" and let his award stand.

Also, he rejected a request by the state to have all claim costs shifted to the federal government as trustee for the stolen land. The Department of Justice during the Clinton administration intervened on behalf of the tribes, a move the state hopes will mean the federal government chips in potential settlement money.

The Bush administration, however, has rejected helping the state pay out $500 million to the Oneida Nation of New York because it wasn't involved in settlement negotiations.

Get McCurn's Ruling:
Cayuga v. Pataki (3/11)

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Settlement sought on Cayuga claim (11/26)
Editorial: Justice on Cayuga land claim (11/26)
Cayuga Nation wants $20M more for land (10/16)
Anti-treaty group blasts Cayuga ruling (10/9)
Cayuga claim still involves landowners (10/5)
Questions linger over Cayuga ruling (10/4)
Judge says Cayuga Nation owed $211M (10/3)
Dispute continues over land claims (8/6)
Tribe could have homeland (5/4)
Land bought for Cayuga Nation (5/3)
State tried to step out of land claims (11/6)
Congressman's ad attacks land claims (10/20)