On September 21, 2015, the Chief Judge of the Tribal Court asked the Isleta Tribal Council to remove Judge Lar Thomas from the bench. In a memo to the Council, Chief Judge Rodney Jones accused Thomas of “malfeasance” in office due to comments that he made about Tribal Attorney Pablo H. Padilla.
The Chief Judge made several claims. They included:
“Judge Thomas raised his voice and brought his face within approximately 1 1/2 feet of Pablo’s. It appeared that Judge Thomas was trying to physically intimidate Pablo.”
“Judge Thomas stated to me that he was “going to smack Pablo in the mouth. . . .””
Judge Thomas stated that he would, “take him [Pablo] out back and kick his ass.”
Judge Thomas was “saying something to the effect that we were now going to begin reporting to the state [DWI convictions] as planned. I interrupted and said something like we are not reporting to the state till we get something back from Tribal Council that says we are going to start reporting. . . . At this point Judge Thomas in my opinion became angry. He stood up and yelled saying something like “He was not going to be running a Kangaroo Court.””
Council President Frank Lujan immediately scheduled a hearing for Judge Thomas to appear before the Council on October 5, 2015 to defend himself against the claims.
Judge Thomas requested a delay so he could prepare for the hearing by interviewing the witnesses against him. The Council denied his request.
JUDGE THOMAS RESPONDS
On the day of the hearing, Thomas submitted his memo to the Council. He explained that Chief Judge Jones was refusing to follow tribal law. Tribal law required the Tribe to report DWI convictions to the State of New Mexico. But, according to Thomas, Judge Jones was unwilling to report convictions to the State.
“[o]rders were given to me personally by Chief Judge Jones wherein I was instructed not to report DUI convictions or any traffic violations to the New Mexico MVD as required by law.”
Judge Thomas continues,
“[t]he complaint filed against me is nothing but a diversion where he [Judge Jones] seeks to place blame on me and have me removed from office because he cannot stand up to the political pressures of his office regarding the aforementioned traffic laws.”
In 1987, the Governor of the Pueblo was Verna J. Williamson. The first female to ever become Governor of the Pueblo. As Governor, she signed Council Resolution No. 87-035. The Resolution adopted New Mexico State law. It states:
“. . . Traffic offenses and violations . . . shall be decided by the Pueblo of Isleta Judiciary according to the State of New Mexico Motor Vehicle Laws as found at Chapter 66 of New Mexico Statutes Annotated to include future amendments, deletions and changes to the State of New Mexico Motor Vehicle Laws. . .” (Emphasis Added).
The Resolution required that a “traffic violator” found guilty was to be:
“sentenced in accordance with allowable punishments, under the State of New Mexico Motor Vehicle Laws. . .”
FLASH FORWARD 2015
Judge Thomas was taking action to follow tribal law to enforce the Council’s 1987 Resolution by reporting DWI convictions to the State. However, tribal officials did not want Thomas to report the convictions. When Thomas insisted that he had a legal duty to enforce tribal law, it forced the Council to adopt a new resolution to immediately change the law.
So, on September 14, 2015, the Council enacted Resolution No. 2015-077 to eliminate the Tribe’s obligation to report DWI convictions to the State of New Mexico.
Thereafter, on September 18, 2015, Chief Judge Jones sent a memo to Judge Thomas. It states:
“Due to recent events I have deep concerns about whether you can adjust to the political views and procedures concerning the application of our laws. The Pueblo does things differently whether good or bad, and it takes a special kind of person with an understanding of our application of tribal sovereignty. Your ideas and analysis of law is, no doubt correct, however, your approach to implementing them has caused our staff and me a lot of consternation and stress not to mention other departments of the Pueblo.”
“I have come to the conclusion that it may be best for both of us and the tribal court if you would seriously consider resigning your position here with the court. Frankly, your style is not a good fit here. This in no way diminishes your contributions and dedication of service as a judge nor is this personal in that sense. I believe it is in the best interests for all concerned.”
Judge Thomas refused to resign. So, three (3) days later, the Chief Judge asked the Council to remove Thomas from the bench.
In his October 5th memo to the Council, Judge Thomas alleged that Chief Judge Rodney Jones was also violating the Code of Judicial Conduct. Thomas stated:
“Chief Judge Jones has repeatedly touched, grabbed, tickled and engaged in horseplay with the female staff members. . . .”
“I have personally witnessed him giving massages and neck rubs, putting one staff member in a headlock, tickling another staff member and making sexist and inappropriate jokes and using extremely offensive language not only in front of female staff members, but also to members of other departments.”
“I have also witnessed numerous occasions where Chief Judge Jones would talk to litigants directly without the other parties present as well as discussing pending cases with others outside the court.”
“Another case involves a child support issue that was erroneously decided by another Judge and Chief Judge Jones spoke to others outside of the court about the matter and indicated to me he had also received pressure from a tribal official to fix this matter and he also indicated to me that he represented to the official that he would have the outcome changed.” (Emphasis Added).
“. . . It is clear to me that the overarching issue is that Chief Judge Jones has submitted himself and the Tribal Court to those in political power, thus destroying the independence of the judiciary.”
On October 5th, the day of the hearing, the following council members were present:
Vice-President Michael Allen Lente;
Secretary Barbara Sanchez;
Ulysses Abeita; and
Verna Teller f/k/a Verna Williamson.
Frank Lujan, President of the Council, was absent.
The Council closed the hearing and asked tribal members to leave. In the end, the Council quickly removed Judge Thomas from the bench. To support its decision, the Council enacted Resolution No. 2015-083, “Authorizing the Removal of Lar Thomas from his Appointed Office As An Associate Tribal Judge.”
The Resolution states,
“. . . the Tribal Council does hereby find and conclude that Lar Thomas’ conduct and statements as tribal judge in interacting with other tribal judges, tribal court staff, and the Pueblo’s general counsel, and specifically in questioning and acting in disregard of clear Tribal Council direction and applicable law, constitutes malfeasance and conduct contrary to the effective functioning of the Tribal Court.” (Emphasis Added).
Now, Judge Thomas is threatening legal action against Council Members and Tribal Attorney Pablo H. Padilla.
Don’t miss an upcoming article: “Should You Play Slot Machines at the Isleta Resort & Casino?” The article will cover the failure of the Pueblo of Isleta Gaming Regulatory Agency to properly enforce gaming laws on the rez.
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