Tribe drops state from lawsuit

Lima News

 By JIM SABIN

07/13/2006,

Seattle attorney Mason Morisset, representing the tribe, hinted that there would be other motions soon, but wouldn’t say whether one or more settlements are in the works. “We’re trying to get the case in order and simplify it here, and this is one of the steps we’re taking,” Morisset said. “I really can’t comment beyond that this time until we complete some other work we’re trying to file with the court. This is, for want of a better term, a loose end to tie up.”

 

TOLEDOAn Indian tribe seeking to bring casino gambling to Ohio has dropped the state and several state leaders from its federal land claim lawsuit.

The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma filed a motion Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Toledo to drop Ohio, Gov. Bob Taft and three state department heads from the lawsuit. The tribe’s motion guaranteed the lawsuit would not be brought again, as well.

Tribal attorneys indicated that because the defendants never filed a response to its May 2005 lawsuit, the tribe could drop them. Some 50 defendants still remain named in the lawsuit, however.

“The tribe’s removal of the state from their suit is a win for Ohio,” Attorney General Jim Petro said in a written statement Wednesday afternoon. “However, no one should be fooled into thinking this is anything other than a tactical legal maneuver by the Eastern Shawnee to continue their efforts to bring casino gambling to Ohio.”

Seattle attorney Mason Morisset, representing the tribe, hinted that there would be other motions soon, but wouldn’t say whether one or more settlements are in the works. “We’re trying to get the case in order and simplify it here, and this is one of the steps we’re taking,” Morisset said. “I really can’t comment beyond that this time until we complete some other work we’re trying to file with the court. This is, for want of a better term, a loose end to tie up.”

The state was the first defendant listed in the case, but the land the tribe is pursuing isn’t owned directly by the state, Morisset said.

“We really can’t say much more than we’re trying to put together something that satisfies everybody. Or, in other words, stay tuned,” he said.

The move comes three weeks before the tribe’s deadline to respond to a series of motions to dismiss the lawsuit, including one by the state.

The tribe’s motion drops the state, Gov. Bob Taft, transportation director Gordon Proctor, natural resources director Sam Speck, tax commissioner William Wilkins, Franklin County, Rea Cemetery and A. Lapana’a LLC from the lawsuit. That still leaves more than two dozen counties, several individuals and a number of cities and other governmental entities named in the lawsuit.

Allen, Auglaize, Logan and Shelby counties remain named, as well as Lima, Shawnee Township, Fort Shawnee and the Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District.

The tribe’s land claim dates back to the 1830s, when the Shawnee tribe was forced from its land in Ohio. The tribe is seeking compensation and has been negotiating with several municipalities around the state for land to use for casinos and resorts. Full-blown casinos are illegal in Ohio.

The tribe has been negotiating with Lima officials, and Finance Director Steve Cleaves said talks never ceased regarding the land claim. Talks with Allen County broke off months ago, however. The tribe has also pursued deals in Massillon, Canal Fulton, Lorain, Botkins and Lordstown, achieving mixed results.

In his statement, Petro said the move showed the tribe agrees it doesn’t have a strong case in its land claim.

“We have maintained all along that the tribe’s claims were completely without merit. The tribe’s voluntary removal of the state of Ohio from this case demonstrates that the tribe has also reached this conclusion,” Petro wrote. Most of the defendants, including the state, filed motions for dismissal of the lawsuit outright, but didn’t file actual responses to the complaint itself.

Petro maintained other defendants have no right to settle the land claim without the state’s participation.

“This is simply an attempt to bring Class III casinos to Ohio. I will continue to vigorously defend state laws which do not allow for Class III casino gambling and do everything in my power to stop it,” Petro wrote.