Former Tribal Judge R. Lar Thomas has sent a letter to the Isleta Tribal Council threatening to file a federal lawsuit against Council Members in their individual capacities. Judge Thomas also plans to sue Tribal Attorney Pablo H. Padilla. The letter was sent by attorneys representing Thomas.
In 2015, Governor Eddie Paul Torres chose Thomas to serve as an Associate Judge for the Pueblo of Isleta Tribal Court. The Council confirmed the Governor’s selection as required by the Tribal Constitution. This meant that Judge Thomas was supposed to serve a two (2) year term (2015-2016) as a tribal judge for the Pueblo.
However, on October 5, 2015, the Council removed Thomas from his office as a Tribal Court Judge. The Council never provided the Tribe with any explanation for its decision to remove Thomas.
On September 14, 1987, the Isleta Tribal Council adopted New Mexico’s Motor Vehicle Laws in Resolution No. 87-35. In other words, the Tribal Council turned NM State law into Isleta Tribal law. So, last year, Judge Thomas was planning to start reporting persons convicted of DWI in Tribal Court to the State of New Mexico as required by Isleta Tribal law under Resolution 87-35.
Tribal officials did not want Judge Thomas to enforce the law. Judge Thomas, however, maintained that he had a duty to enforce the Tribe’s laws and report the convictions. This caused the Council to quickly change the law to eliminate the Tribe’s obligation to report DWI convictions to the State.
By this time, the Council was very unhappy with Judge Thomas. So, the Council took action to remove him from office based on the legal advice of their in-house lawyers (Pablo Padilla and Kaydee Culbertson). The problem was that the Council failed to follow the Tribal Constitution when they removed him.
Now, the Tribal Council has called in attorney David Mielke to defend each of the Council Members and attorney Pablo Padilla for their actions to remove Judge Thomas. Mielke is a partner with the law firm of Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Mielke & Brownell, LLP.
Judge Thomas is threatening to sue Council Members in their “individual capacities” to try to avoid the Tribe’s legal defense of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity prevents anyone from suing Indian tribal governments. Sovereign immunity, however, does not apply to tribal officials, if those officials are acting beyond the scope of their power.
Attorney Mielke responded to the threatened lawsuit from Thomas and his lawyers by making his own threat to seek sanctions against them under Rule 11. Federal Rule 11 is a procedural rule. In appropriate circumstances, under Rule 11, a court can sanction attorneys or parties who file a lawsuit for an improper purpose. Courts can also impose sanctions for frivolous arguments or arguments that have no supporting evidence.
How much of the TRIBE’s money will the Isleta Tribal Council WASTE to defend themselves for failing to follow the Isleta Tribal Constitution?