(Updated with corrected dismissal)
By Deb Murphy
Tribal Judge Bill Kockenmeister, at the request of the Bishop Paiute Tribal Council, issued a restraining order against members of the Warlie family, requiring the family remove fencing, livestock and a storage container from two contested allotments and stay off the land.
Last Tuesday’s proceedings come after three years of struggle between descendants of Ida Warlie and the Tribal Council over the two lots, directly behind the existing Paiute Palace Casino and slated for extensive development.
Brothers Ron and Rick Napoles, the spokesmen for the family, maintain allotments were given to their grandmother, Eda Warlie, in 1939 and have remained in the family ever since. While more recent allotments have been limited in size, family allotments like the Warlie’s were basically grandfathered in according to the family’s attorney Andrea Seielstad, with precedents being set that validate the Warlie family claim. Tribal Council maintains the land went back to the Tribe after disuse and the two parcels are necessary for economic development.
Last month, the same Tribal Court judge dismissed with prejudice, meaning the matter could not come back before the court, charges of trespass levied against family members in July 2014. According to Seielstad, dismissal of the trespass charges basically validates the family’s claim to the land: you can’t trespass on land that belongs to you.
Five family members were cited with trespass on three consecutive days beginning last Saturday.
Tribal Council requested the restraining order on the basis that the family’s activities on the land represented a “threat to health, safety and peace,” and fell within the trespass ordinance.
Ron Napoles told the court the hearing was a violation of due process. “I don’t know why we’re here,” he said. Kockenmeister interrupted him. “You know why you’re here,” he said. “This is not a hearing on who owns the land. Tribal Court has no jurisdiction to determine ownership.” The judge explained that Napoles required a court order as to the ownership. “Without that I have to decide ownership lies with the Tribe not the family.”
The judge explained the request for a restraining order was an ex parte action not requiring the presence of the Warlie family members cited for trespass. “This is a courtesy,” he said.
However in a phone interview, Seielstad said there are required procedures and the burden of proof that the family’s actions represented a threat to health, safety and peace.
Hockenmeister also said a previous Appellate Court decision had no status.
Since the initial action in 2014, the Intertribal Court of Southern California, the court of appeals, overturned the trespass citations following oral arguments and evidence the land had been in the Warlie family since 1939. The court could not rule on ownership, but according to Seielstad, the Tribal Council had to prove its right to the land. “And it never did,” she said.
The Bishop Tribal Council issued a press release last week stating “the assertion of (Napoles’) family rights to occupy and use the particular parcels of land underlying the future hotel have been repudiated by every seated Tribal Council since 1977, as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Owens Valley Board of Trustees.” The release indicates a Grant of Standard Assignment had to be obtained from the Board of Trustees.