Joseph “Cougar” Lucero’s Appointment Questionable

On February 26, 2013, Governor Eddie Paul Torres and tribal attorney, Pablo Padilla, advised the Isleta Tribal Council that they were intending to file a Petition for Judicial Review with the Isleta Tribal Courts. The purpose of the Petition is to ask the Court to decide whether Joseph “Cougar” Lucero’s appointment as Chief Judge is constitutional. On February 19, 2013, Lucero submitted a letter to the Council resigning from his position as a Council member. Lucero resigned to serve as the Chief Judge.

Lucero’s appointment, however, is questionable because he did not receive a 2/3 majority vote from the Council. Article IX, Section 2 of the Isleta Tribal Constitution requires that 2/3 of the Council vote in favor any person nominated to serve as a tribal court judge.

The Council’s initial vote on whether to accept Joseph Lucero as Chief Judge was 6 in favor and 5 opposed. The Council voted by secret ballot. The Governor and a majority of the Council were under the false impression that a simple majority was necessary to approve Lucero’s appointment.

After the first vote, Council member Barbara Sanchez wanted to make another motion confirming Joseph Lucero’s appointment. Council members questioned why another vote was necessary. Apparently, Sanchez was aware that the first vote did not satisfy the Tribal Constitution. Ms. Sanchez, however, did not explain to the Council why she was trying to get the Council to vote once more on approving Joseph Lucero’s appointment as Chief Judge. After a long debate, another motion was made confirming the initial vote. The second vote was 9 in favor 0 opposed and 2 abstaining.

Two days later, the Council realized that Lucero did not receive a 2/3 majority vote approving his appointment as required by the Tribal Constitution. Council member Barbara Sanchez, however, argued that Lucero did receive a 2/3 majority vote due to the second vote taken by the Council. Other council members disagreed, they argued that the first vote was controlling because the first vote was whether to approve Lucero as the Chief Judge and the second vote was to confirm the first vote. The Council debated on which vote was controlling and the real purpose of the second vote.

To resolve the controversy, a third vote was taken to decide whether to approve Joseph Lucero as Chief Judge. The third vote was 6 in favor and 5 opposed to Lucero’s appointment as Chief Judge. The third vote does not satisfy the 2/3 majority requirement of the Tribal Constitution.

The multiple votes on whether to approve Joseph Lucero as Chief Judge caused a dispute on whether his appointment to the bench is constitutional. This is the reason Governor Torres decided to file a petition with the Isleta Tribal Courts. The Governor wants to allow the Court to decide whether Lucero’s appointment is constitutional. The Governor explained to the Council that, if the Court decides that Lucero’s appointment does not comply with the constitution, then the Council should allow Joseph Lucero to get his position back on the Council.

The tribal attorney, Pablo Padilla, asked the Council to join the petition with the Governor. Padilla drafted the petition and the Council reviewed the document. Council members questioned some of the language contained in the petition because they thought that the terms in the petition were not entirely accurate of what the Council discussed concerning Lucero’s appointment.

The Council voted to join the Governor’s petition. The vote was 9 in favor and 2 opposed. Barbara Sanchez and Cynthia Jaramillo voted against joining the Governor’s petition. The Petition will ask the Isleta Tribal Court to convene as a three (3) judge panel and decide whether Joseph Lucero’s appointment as Chief Judge is constitutional. The judges that will hear this case are: Chief Judge Ernest Jaramillo, Associate Judge Robert F. Medina and Associate Judge Aaron Choneska. Padilla filed the petition along with two (2) digital audio recordings of the Tribal Council discussing the appointment of Joseph Lucero as Chief Judge.

By Christopher Abeita