Judge Weighs Dismissal of Schaghticoke’s $610M Lawsuit Against State
Whether the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation can continue its fight to reclaim $610 million from the state of Connecticut for taking reservation lands is now in the hands of a Superior Court judge.
The state made sovereign immunity and a lack of standing due to a dispute between two factions within the Schaghticoke its cornerstone argument for dismissal. The nation is suing the state saying it’s owed damages for land taken from its northwestern Connecticut reservation beginning more than two centuries ago.
The nation claims the state seized 2,000 acres of its 2,400-acre reservation without proper payment despite promises to do so.
Both sides agreed prior to Thursday’s hearing in Hartford Superior Court that lack of standing would be the only topic discussed.
Assistant Attorney General Rob Deichert repeatedly fielded questions from Judge Thomas Moukawsher about whether the dispute between the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation and the competing government, the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe, was “substantial.”
“The fact that there is a dispute can’t be enough,” the judge said. “Don’t I have to find there is a substantial dispute?”
Deichert said, “Our position is clear: There is a leadership dispute and it has been substantial for decades.”
The Schaghticoke split in two factions in 1986: the tribe and the nation. Lawsuits filed since the split have acknowledged the two factions, which Deichert claims is part of the ongoing “substantial” dispute.
The nation and the tribe also have separate tribal constitutions. Richard Velky, who was in court Thursday, was elected chief for life for the nation in 1987. Alan Russell is chief of the tribe and is not a party to the current lawsuit.
Deichert also told the court a favorable decision for the nation could preclude other factions “from bringing claims later. We know there are other factions out there.”
Deichert brought up the Connecticut Appellate Court case of Schaghticoke Indian Tribe v. Rost to bolster the state’s claim. The 2012 case dealt with the eviction of Michael Rost from Schaghticoke land, and involved the dispute over tribal leadership.
Austin Tighe, representing the nation, insisted his client has standing.
“We have a tribal council that passed a resolution and at least six members brought the lawsuit on behalf of the tribe.”
Tighe, of counsel for the Texas-based law firm Nix, Patterson & Roach, told the courtroom the state is looking for a way out of the lawsuit.
After the hearing, Tighe said, “This entire idea that there is a leadership dispute is a fiction created by the state only after they were sued for $610 million.”
Tighe declined to comment further. Deichert declined to comment afterward.