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Judge Limits Tribe’s Attorneys’ Immunity

LAS VEGAS (CN) - A federal judge rejected the Hualapai Tribe's claim that their attorneys are protected by sovereign immunity, and ordered them to comply with a subpoena in a defamation case springing from the Grand Canyon Skywalk.

While attorney-client discussions are protected by attorney-client privilege, attorneys and law firms do not share the same protection when it comes to document subpoenas, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey ruled Monday.

She affirmed a ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley Jr., who denied the Gallagher & Kennedy law firm's motion to quash a subpoena seeking information on the tribe's Grand Canyon Skywalk.

Foley ruled that "a federal civil subpoena served on an individual tribal officer or employee, as opposed to the tribe itself, does not trigger tribal sovereign immunity."

"Even if Gallagher & Kennedy might otherwise be immune from a suit for damages based on tribal sovereign immunity, the doctrine does onto protect or excuse it from compliance with the subpoena," Foley wrote in his June 5, 2015, ruling.

Gallagher and the Hualapai objected, but Dorsey denied their objections and closed the case on Monday.

"The resolution of the objections terminates the only issues remaining in these limited-purpose actions," Dorsey wrote.

The matter arose from a defamation lawsuit filed by the developers of the Hualapai Tribe's Grand Canyon Skywalk. The developers sought documents pertaining to discussions the law firm might have had with a public relations firm representing the tribe.

The developers claim the Scutari & Cieslak public relations firm waged a defamatory campaign against them after their relationship with the tribe began to sour during the project.

Work on the 69-foot, horseshoe-shaped skywalk overlooking the Grand Canyon's southwestern rim began in 2003 and was completed in March 2007. It is on tribal land in Peach Springs.

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