Ted Simons: The Tohono O'Odham indian tribe plans to build a casino on land near glendale have survived seller court challenges, including Federal Court summary that favored the tribe just three weeks ago, we're joined by Heidi McNeil-Staudenmaier of the law firm Snell and Wilmer. It's good to have you here, thanks for joining us.
Heidi Staudenmaier: Thank you.
Ted Simons: What is the status of this dispute?
Heidi Staudenmaier: Well, there is, actually, about multiple prongs going on with this dispute. It's not just one lawsuit, but there have been multiple lawsuits, and there's also a pending legislation so it's not one single thing at this time. So.
Ted Simons: Yeah, and very complicated. As for that ruling three weeks ago in Federal Court, what was that all about?
Heidi Staudenmaier: Um, there is, there's been two Federal Court rulings, the one, the one that you are talking about, it's the Arizona Federal Court. And what happened there was, essentially, the State of Arizona and the Gila River and Salt River tribe, who are all bordering here in Phoenix, brought a lawsuit against the Tohono O'Odham tribe. Essentially, contending that the deal that was struck when the original gaming compacts were negotiated in the State of Arizona for gaming, not just for the Tohono O'Odham tribe but for all the tribes, did not intend that there would be an additional casino built in Phoenix. I mean, there is a lot of, a lot of other legal issues in that, but that was kind of the crux of it.
Ted Simons: What does that say regarding new casinos in the Phoenix area?
Heidi Staudenmaier: And that's what the judge came down on. Ruled specifically that, that the four corners of that contract did not specifically prohibit another casino in the Phoenix area. And that was the whole argument around the case, was that there was intent that the Tohono O'Odham nation, they already knew that they wanted to have the casino built in glendale, but they did not disclose it to, to anyone else, while they were negotiating the compact, but the judge, essentially, said look, I'm going to look at the contract, itself, what does it say? And the contract did not have specific language in there prohibiting it. And he said, based on that, I do not see a claim here. But, he left it open. There is still one remaining issue in that lawsuit. Which he's asked both sides to, submit more briefings.
Ted Simons: And is that the issue what exactly the state understands this compact to say?
Heidi Staudenmaier: Yes. I mean, it really comes down to the intent, what did the state understand it was negotiating in this compact in terms of casinos and where they would be located, and also, who was it that, that was the representative of the state? What -- who is the state? Is it what the Governor understands? Is it what, what the voters understand? Because the voters were the ones to pass proposition 202 approving the compacts so that's part of the argument here is, is what was understood, and when this compact was being negotiated, so the judge is asking for a little more evidence, a little more briefing to go behind what was going on.
Ted Simons: Does it matter what the tribe knew about the state's understanding?
Heidi Staudenmaier: Maybe. That's, that's, also, the judge wanted a briefing in terms of not only what did the state understand and was the state's understanding reasonable. But, also, what did the tribe know that the state knew?
Ted Simons: And again, not to get too complicated but why is understanding so important?
Heidi Staudenmaier: Well, I think that it's important because, because these compacts were proved through proposition 202, which was the voters. And so, I think that the judge really wants to make sure that this is done with some intent about what the people of Arizona wanted.
Ted Simons: Now, I have not heard this, but Glendale’s efforts to annex that land. Is that still in court?
Heidi Staudenmaier: That was one of the lawsuits, that was brought early on, the tribe brought a lawsuit to, to dismiss or to, basically, prohibit the state, or the city from doing that, and that, essentially, was through the whole court process. And the tribe won on that, and it's essentially exhaust all appeals, so I think, I think when I say I think, I think that safely that, that issue, itself, that legal issue is, is now resolved. And dead.
Ted Simons: I was not sure if, if they were allowed, the tribe was allowed to go and put this into trust yet or if that was still hanging.
Heidi Staudenmaier: Well, there is yet a third lawsuit.
Ted Simons: Ok.
Heidi Staudenmaier: There was another lawsuit brought, which is still pending, and that lawsuit was brought by the State of Arizona again, and the Gila river tribe and the Salt River tribe, and against the secretary of the interior. And the secretary of the interior is who has the authority and the power to take land into the trust for tribes. So, they brought a lawsuit saying that you don't have the authority to take this land into trust because this all goes back to the original act. Permitting the land to be taken into the trust in the first place, which is the Gila Bend Act, which was passed by Congress to help the tribe replace traditional lands that were flooded by the U.S. Government dam built in the 70s. And so under the Gila Bend Act there were conditions that had to be met for the tribe to buy replacement land. And one of the conditions was that it can't be land that is within city limits. And the tribe went and bought this land in Glendale. It is surround by three sides of Glendale surround it.
Ted Simons: Right.
Heidi Staudenmaier: So it's, essentially, a county, un-incorporated county island. And in the middle of Glendale. And so, that issue has been litigated where they have challenge the secretary of interior saying that you did not have the authority to take this land into the trust, and because it does not fall within the Gila Bend Act. The Federal Court judge here in Arizona disagreed and said, nope, it falls within the act. It's all appropriate, and end of story. So, of course, that has been appealed to the 9th Circuit court of appeals. And the 9th Circuit ruled, in September, that they agreed with the Arizona judge. And said that we agree with you. The state then asked for reconsideration of that decision, and just in the last week, the 9th Circuit did reverse part of the opinion, and said that, that we think that there is some ambiguity of what is meant by within the city limits.
Ted Simons: Oh, my goodness. And last question here and, and in the grand scheme of things, a 30,000-foot view, why does the tribe keep winning or at least getting favorable rulings and why does the state and the city keep losing?
Heidi Staudenmaier: Well --
Ted Simons: It sieges as though, this issue should be resolved by now because the scoreboard looks like a lopsided game.
Heidi Staudenmaier: You know, I think that the state and the other parties involved in this would probably disagree that it is lopsided, and obviously the Tohono O'Odham tribe would --
Ted Simons: Yes.
Heidi Staudenmaier: --Would contour with you saying that it is lopsided, and but that's the beauty of the law. That's why I enjoy practicing law. There is always different arguments to make, and depending on the judge that, that rules on it, or looks at it, may have a different viewpoint. And so, it has been to date the tribe has been winning a lot of the battles, but, will the war ultimately be won by them? I don't know.
Ted Simons: That's a good way to put it. Great information and good to your you here, and thanks for joining us.
Heidi Staudenmaier: Thank you very much.