Cayuga Nation requests judicial intervention, transferring civil cases over rent to Seneca County Supreme Court’s custody

It took less than five months before the Cayuga Nation broke their promise on litigating their longstanding eviction problems solely through their self-made court. Now, the Nation is bringing close to a dozen individual civil lawsuits against their own members, but this time inside the Seneca County Supreme Court — conceivably at the expense of county taxpayers.

The first day of Honorable Joseph E. Fahey’s Cayuga Nation Civil Court occurred on February 23, 2021. None of the Cayuga traditionalists who were named in the initial lawsuit ever appeared before their courtroom inside the newly-minted Justice Center along State Route 89.

Since then, the Nation had begun establishing several civil suits in late-June to recoup more than $600,000 in monetary damages against named defendants: the tenants within 14 residential Nation-owned properties scattered throughout Seneca Falls, including Annette and Dakota Miller, Brad and Leanna Kettle, Michelle and Dylan Seneca, Amber Park, Dustin Parker as well as Warren and Wanda John.

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Lee Alcott, a partner at Barclay Damon, started resuming legal actions against the tenants even after ‘solidarity campers’ defended parcels of fee land and even organized demonstrations against the Nation’s leadership including Clint Halftown, the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ federally-recognized representative.

Back in late-February, however, Alcott told FingerLakes1.com that all of the properties resided within the Nation’s ancestral reservation, which hadn’t been placed into trust. Despite a denial that had been handed down by former Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney in August 2020, it’s a reality that “has no bearing on the authority of the Nation’s Court.”

As previously reported by FingerLakes1.com, the Nation has never possessed any public law contracts from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to establish a police force or tribal court, according to the Eastern Regional Office.

Yet the Nation is now pivoting toward the state in the hopes of resolving their internal rent troubles in accordance with Article 4 of the New York Consolidated Laws, Civil Practice Law & Rules in an attempt to request for judicial intervention regarding these legal matters. 

In most cases, the state has already granted the special proceedings request, agreeing for Honorable J. Scott Odorisi to oversee the legal proceedings as soon as early-September in Seneca County.

He’s listed as the Coordinating Judge for Superior Commercial-Civil Assignments for the New York Supreme Court’s 7th Judicial District.

Odorisi, a former Harris Beach LLP lawyer, is set to adjudicate judgements on several cases in the same jurisdiction where the Seneca County Board of Supervisors terminated the Rochester-based law firm’s contract in 2014, partly because their team failed to file a writ of certiorari in time of a deadline to appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the Nation’s outstanding tax balance of nearly $7 million, which is an issue of controversy almost seven years later.

Joe Heath, general counsel for the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, told FingerLakes1.com that the forthcoming series of civil suits “appears to be an example of Halftown’s viciousness.”

“It is merely to record these huge money judgments in state court, to be enforced against folks,” he added.

Given the Nations latest legal strategy to prioritize collecting significant money judgments over evictions, Heath curiously questions their approach in an attempt to identify the true reason behind shifting its litigation from within the Nation itself over to the state level.

As for Maria Stagliano, a Cayuga Nation spokesperson, cited N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 22 § 202.71, a statute allowing sovereign Nations to commence special proceedings in accordance with the state’s aforementioned CPLR’s Article 4.

The Cayuga Nation intends to enforce all legal judgments from its Court within its sovereign jurisdiction and in other jurisdictions as necessary,” Stagliano told FingerLakes1.com. New York law explicitly allows for recognition of legal judgments from other sovereign nations so that they may be enforced against assets under New York’s jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, the concern for tenants is real — now more than ever before. With Cayuga Nation Police Department officers arriving unannounced at residential properties and knocking on doors, fear continues to shroud the well-entrenched factional dispute. After all, the Nation’s police led the overnight destruction of multiple properties along State Route 89 on February 22, 2020.

The latest development comes just a few weeks after Seneca County Board of Supervisors invited Halftown to speak before them at one of their upcoming meetings — quite possibly on Tuesday, August 10.