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Santa Ysabel chairman cannot dismiss vice chairwoman

Judge says chairman acted beyond the scope of his authority By EDWARD SIFUENTES Thursday, February 12, 2009

The chairman of the Santa Ysabel Band of Mission Indians cannot unilaterally remove the tribe's chairwoman from her elected post, an inter-tribal court judge ruled this week.

Chairman Johnny Hernandez and Vice Chairwoman Brandie Taylor are involved in a bitter, ongoing feud over the tribe's casino and other issues. Taylor has said that the chairman excluded her from casino businesses and that he has fired tribal government officials without due process.

In a letter dated Dec. 29, 2008, Hernandez told Taylor that he had decided to remove her from her duties for "blatant insubordination."

Taylor sued Hernandez for reinstatement in the Inter-Tribal Court in Rincon. The court's judge, Anthony Brandenburg, ruled Wednesday in Taylor's favor.

"The court concludes that Chairman Hernandez's act of dismissing the vice chairwoman was beyond his scope of his constitutional authority and far exceeds his powers as chairman," Brandenburg wrote in his decision.

In her suit, Taylor alleged that Hernandez had defamed her by forwarding the removal letter to other tribal leaders and tribal organizations that she works with. She asked the court to award her $10,000 in punitive damages.

The judge dismissed that allegation, but he did order that she be paid "all back wages, which may have been paid to her if she was not dismissed."

Brandenburg also ordered Hernandez to notify anyone he told about the vice chairwoman's dismissal that she has been fully reinstated to her elected position.

Taylor said she was pleased with the judge's decision.

"It's monumental," Taylor said. "It's not just for me, but for the future vice chairmen that may come after me."

Hernandez could not be reached for comment.

I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa who specializes in tribal gambling law, said he was not aware of any other case of a tribal chairman attempting to unilaterally remove another elected person.

Rose said the case was well-suited for an inter-tribal court to decide because outside courts would not have the authority rule on such matters.

"That is the perfect purpose for why tribal courts exist," he said.

Contact staff writer Edward Sifuentes at (760) 740-3511 or [email protected]

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