(CN) - Opponents of a new casino in Madera County, Calif., can introduce evidence that allegedly shows the U.S. Interior Secretary overstepped her authority in approving a gaming compact between the North Folk Rancheria of Mono Indians Tribe and the state, a federal judge ruled.
In 2011, the federal government said that the tribe could conduct gaming in an unincorporated portion of the county, and the following year, the U.S. Department of the Interior acquired a 305-acre parcel of land in trust on behalf of the tribe.
In February 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell in Washington, D.C., refused to grant an injunction to Stand Up for California to stop the project, finding that then-interior Secretary of State Ken Salazar properly considered the site of the casino, as well as the impact it would have on the area.
In addition to its claims under the Indian Reorganization Act, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and the National Environmental Policy, Stand Up is also challenging the government's decision in October 2013 not to disapprove the Class Gaming Compact between the North Folk Tribe and the state an action that allowed the compact to go into effect.
Stand Up now contends the Interior Department has not supplied all of the documents relevant to the group's claims, and it asked the court to compel the government to do so .
Howell ruled that Stand Up can supplement the record with three 2013 letters from California Secretary of State Debra Bowen to Paula Hart, director of the Interior Department's Office of Indian Gaming, that address the status of the gaming compacts entered into by the state with the North Fork tribe and the Wiyot tribe.
"According to the plaintiffs, the 2013 letters are relevant ... because they 'show that the Secretary had a duty to disapprove the compact and breached that duty by publishing the approval in the Federal Register,'" Howell wrote.
Stand Up claims the Interior Department is allowed to approve or disapprove any tribal-state compact within 45 days of receipt, with inaction during this period deemed to be approval.
They contend the 2013 letters show the compact was subject to a state referendum. The letters inform the Interior Department that the statute approving the compact would not go into effect until the beginning of 2014, if at all, and that if a referendum petition qualified for the ballot, the statute would not go into effect until the day after the election.
Stand Up claimed the compact was, therefore, not yet entered into by the state as of October 2013, so the secretary's publication of approval violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
The government and the tribe concede that the letters are relevant, and were indisputably before the government at the time that it made the decision regarding approval of the compact.
The judge refused Stand Up's request to supplement the record with three pieces of correspondence from more than 20 years ago between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Ron Good, who identified himself in the earliest document as Tribe Chairman.
Stand Up argued that these documents are relevant because they challenge the tribal status of the North Folk Tribe.
The letters suggest that a group of tribal members led by Goode sought tribal status independent of the North Fork Tribe, but this is irrelevant to any evaluation of the North Fork's status. Even if the Goode group were recognized as its own tribe, this would not change the rights of the North Fork tribe, Howell said.
"In any even, the exact relationship, if any, between the North Fork Tribe and Ron Goode or his group is unclear since the record about them is sparse. This group may have no relationship to the North Fork Tribe, currently be part of the North Fork Tribe or, if not, merely descendants of early tribal members," Howell said. 'The plaintiffs invite elaborate speculation about this amorphous group and its relationship, if any, to the North Fork Tribe."
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