Chowchilla Tribe of Yokuts Asks To Weigh In On Gaming Pact Suit – Law360

The Chowchilla Tribe of Yokuts asked Friday to weigh in on litigation seeking to force California back into negotiations with another tribe for a proposed casino on the Chowchilla tribe’s historic homeland, telling a federal court it needs to ensure that the casino remains unbuilt.

A vocal opponent of both the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California’s proposed casino and the North Fork tribe’s 2013 gaming compact with the state, the Chowchilla tribe argued Friday that it needs to protect the results of a November referendum, where California voters voided the state legislature’s ratification of the 2013 compact by 61 percent.

The North Fork tribe claims in its suit that the state has refused to honor its gaming compact with the tribe following the November referendum, known as Proposition 48. By refusing to initiate talks on a new compact, the state has shirked its duty to negotiate in good faith under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the tribe claims.

Had the compact not been voided, the tribe could have continued to seek permission to construct a casino in Madera, California. The land in question is located in the central part of the state, 38 miles away from the North Fork tribe’s reservation, on land that is within the Chowchilla tribe’s historic boundaries, according to the Chowchilla tribe’s brief.

The Chowchilla tribe, which had helped to place Proposition 48 on the ballot, said Friday that the North Fork suit has no merit because the governor and the state legislature fulfilled their duty under IGRA. The fact that California voters later overturned the compact doesn’t give the North Fork tribe the right to claim the state acted in bad faith by refusing to renew negotiations, they claim.

“Because North Fork, through this action, is seeking to end-run the effect of Proposition 48, which the Chowchilla Tribe among other interested stakeholders worked to place on the ballot, the Chowchilla Tribe was forced to seek intervener status in this proceeding,” according to the Chowchilla tribe’s brief.

Not only is the Chowchilla tribe concerned about the potential environmental effects of the proposed casino, but the development of the casino could frustrate the tribe’s efforts to seek federal recognition, according to the brief. A casino on its historic homeland could lead the government to believe that the tribe is not geographically distinct, the tribe argued.

Moreover, the state of California can’t adequately defend its interests in the suit, because they went against the tribe’s wishes in ratifying the 2012 compact.

In 2013, Stand Up For California and other groups began campaigning for a ballot initiative to allow voters to decide the fate of the state gaming compacts for the Madera Casino and another casino planned by the Wiyot Tribe.

Casino opponents argued that California tribes had promised to only build casinos on their reservations when Indian gaming was first allowed in the state, claiming that approving the pacts would lead to an explosion of tribal casinos in urban areas.

But according to the North Fork Tribe’s complaint, a casino’s presence outside reservation boundaries isn’t a valid reason for the state to back out of a gaming agreement.

While the 2013 compact was negotiated with California’s governor and later ratified by state lawmakers, the North Fork tribe contends that IGRA requires the state to strike an “enforceable” compact. The state’s “outright” refusal to renew talks falls short of that standard, according to the suit.

Attorneys for the parties could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.

The North Fork tribe is represented by Christopher E. Babbitt of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP and John A. Maier of Maier Pfeffer Kim Geary & Cohen LLP.

The Chowchilla Tribe of Yokuts is represented by Timothy Jones, Patrick D. Toole and Josiah M. Prendergast of Wanger Jones Helsley PC.

California is represented by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, Senior Assistant Attorney General Sara J. Drake, and Deputy Attorneys General Neil D. Houston, William P. Torngren, and Timothy M. Muscat.

The case is North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California v. State of California, case number 1:15-cv-00419, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

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