Bishop, CA- On December 27, 2016, tribal members of the Napoles and Williams families filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus in the U.S. District Court Eastern District, Fresno Division against Bishop Paiute Tribal Council and Tribal Court Judge Bill Kockenmeister.
The Petition cites unlawful convictions and the detaining of the family (Petitioners) for crimes including trespass. It further cites the ejecting and restraining of Petitioners from their family land without due process or equal protection of law pursuant to the Indian Civil Rights Act.
In 2013, the Bishop Paiute Tribe’s General Council voted down a measure to expand its casino. Despite the vote, the Tribal Council went forward with casino expansion plans and took steps to physically take Petitioner’s land for the project. Tribal police and employees were deployed on to the family’s land and destroyed fencing and property.
In 2014, tribal police issued trespass citations to members of the family that led to consecutive Tribal Appellate Court reversals of the citations over a two-year period. On remand to the lower Bishop Paiute Tribal Court for a final determination of land use and occupation rights, the Bishop Tribal Council opted to Dismiss the matter with Prejudice rather than move forward with a hearing. Dismissing with Prejudice prevents the Tribal Council from filing trespass charges on the same issue. Having received a favorable legal outcome, family members resumed occupation of the land re-building fencing and reintroducing livestock on November 19, 2016. The Tribal Council immediately dispatched Tribal Police to issue trespass citations to family members over multiple days.
On Nov. 22, Tribal Court Judge Bill Kockenmeister convened a special hearing and, at the tribal council’s request, issued a Temporary Protection Order to five members of the Napoles/ Williams families. Kockenmeister referred to the family’s presence at the hearing as a “courtesy,” but stated the family does not have due process rights nor the right to say anything. The family was not afforded legal representation having been served notices to appear by tribal police less than 24 hours prior to the hearing.
In response, the family’s attorney Andrea Seielstad filed a Writ of Mandamus. The Writ requested that the Tribe’s Appellate Court immediately vacate the invalid temporary orders, directing the disqualification or removal of Respondent Kockenmeister from further involvement with this matter. On December 12, 2016, Petitioners discovered that the Bishop Tribal Council had cancelled its contract with the Intertribal Court of Southern California (ICSC), which had served as the Tribe’s Appellate Court in the previous trespass proceeding. This cancelation came after the ICSC issued its second decision against the Tribal Council. The tribal court clerk indicated that appeal documents would be channeled back to Respondent Judge Kockenmeister.
On December 16, 2016 Kockenmeister issued a continuance of the matter “pending the empanelment of the Appellate Court.” The TPO’s were extended and proceedings stayed until March 21, 2017. Petitioners stress the fact that the March date falls after the tribal council’s scheduled start of construction of Paiute Palace Casino expansion on the family’s land.
With the tribe’s appellate court dismantled and the Tribal Council controlling both judge panel selection and timing for reestablishing the appellate court, opportunity for judicial relief sought by Petitioners at the local level has been exhausted.
The Petition to the U.S. District Court requests the court discharge the TPO’s, vacate the trespass citations, restrict the Tribal Council and Judge Kockenmeister from interfering with the family’s use and occupation of the land, and prohibit the Bishop Paiute Tribal Council from using the Napoles/ Williams land for development including casino expansion.
The Napoles and Williams families are represented by Andrea Seielstad, University of Dayton School of Law- Dayton Ohio and Jack Duran, Duran Law Office-Roseville California.