Filing deadline passes in tribe’s federal lawsuit

“We’re filing a responsive brief,” said Mason Morisset, attorney for the tribe. “Today is the day for our files, our briefs. It’s just a standard response to the motion (to dismiss).”

 

By MATTHEW RINK

Matthew.Rink@IndeOnline.com

The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma worked toward a response to the state’s motion to dismiss its federal land-claim lawsuit Wednesday.

“We’re filing a responsive brief,” said Mason Morisset, attorney for the tribe. “Today is the day for our files, our briefs. It’s just a standard response to the motion (to dismiss).”

The filing was not complete at press time Wednesday. Morisset, a Seattle gaming attorney, had until midnight Pacific time to file the response.

            Last June, the tribe filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Toledo claiming it was forced off of 92,800 acres of land it occupied until 1830. The tribe sued the state, several local governments and property owners to have the land returned.

            The tribe has tried to negotiate settlements, which have centered around the opening of casinos, with several cities, including Massillon and Canal Fulton, though neither are defendants in the federal lawsuit.

            Morisset said the court filings are not affected even though city councils in Canal Fulton and Lima did not reach formal agreements with the tribe.

            “This doesn’t have anything to do with that,” said Morisset, when asked about the impact of two unsigned memorandums of understanding. “We’re just responding to the briefing.”

            Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro has cautioned several of the cities in talks with the tribe that any agreement made is “meaningless” and would likely never take effect.

            Wednesday was the deadline set by Judge James G. Carr for the tribe to respond to the motion to dismiss. Last month, Carr, for the second time, pushed back the deadline 30 days, only a fraction of what the tribe had requested.

            The state will have until June 30 to respond to the filings. The earliest Carr could rule on the motion to dismiss is July.

            Kim Norris, spokesperson for the attorney general, said the state had not seen the tribe’s latest court filings as of Wednesday afternoon.

            “Asking for more time was a tactic by the Eastern Shawnee to put more pressure on local governments to sign these bogus settlement agreements,” Norris said. “We don’t believe they are worth the paper they are signed on.”

            Massillon City Council signed a letter of interest for a casino on the former Republic Steel site, which the tribe submitted to the courts. After talks cooled in Massillon, the tribe pitched a similar plan to Canal Fulton officials, who last week came up a vote short of adopting a memorandum of understanding.

            Had the memorandum been passed, it also would have been submitted in the tribe’s filings.

            Lima City Council, which is in talks with the tribe, also came up short on approving a memorandum, but plans to revisit the issue next week.

            “There’s a difference between court deadlines and internal deadlines to get things done,” Morisset said. “We’re on a very short time frame to wrap up what we’re doing, and we’re trying to do it in a schedule that matches the court’s.”

            Norris said that the tribe’s claim is meritless.

            “Gambling, which they would like to bring to the state, is not legal in Ohio, and we will continue to defend state laws that prohibit Class 3 gaming in Ohio,” she said. “We think we’ve made a very strong argument for the state of Ohio that the Eastern Shawnee has no claim to land in the state.”

            Though Massillon has slipped out of the casino spotlight since the tribe took the issue to Canal Fulton, Community Development Chairman Ron Mang said the city is not out of the picture.

            “We’re just waiting,” Mang said. “We’re waiting for them. We’ve already made our resolution and signed our resolution. There’s nothing more we can do. We’ll see how it plays out.”

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