AUBURN | The remaining lawsuit lodged against one faction of the divided Cayuga Indian Nation has been dismissed.
On Tuesday morning in Cayuga County Court, Judge Thomas Leone granted the Unity Council's motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought against the council by Clint Halftown, who claims he is the nation's federal representative.
The reactions of the more than 100 people seated inside the courtroom were mixed, ranging from disappointment to elation.
Members of the Unity Council, who mostly donned traditional tribal garb, smiled as they exchanged handshakes and hugs. Supporters of Halftown, many wearing red shirts lettered with the words "Cayuga Nation," shook their heads and frowned.
The decision was issued after about an hour's worth of arguments from the plaintiffs and defendants — and one day after Seneca County Judge Dennis Bender dismissed a similar lawsuit filed by Halftown against the Unity Council in regard to nation-owned businesses and offices in Seneca Falls.
David DeBruin, Halftown's attorney, asked Leone to file a preliminary injunction ordering the Unity Council to stay away from nation-owned businesses in Union Springs until the Cayuga Nation's leadership dispute is resolved.
Failing to do so, DeBruin warned, would allow anyone to act as they pleased under the guise of leading the nation.
"You are essentially left with a lawless situation where people can seize property by force or threats," he said. "Chaos will reign."
Stating that both sides were prepared to work with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to solve the "deep dispute," DeBruin asked Leone to keep Halftown in place as the nation's federal representative. That temporary placement, he argued, was supported by the BIA in a recent letter.
"In terms of the status quo ... Mr. Halftown remains the representative," he said.
In the May 15 letter, Franklin Keel, director of the BIA's eastern regional office, told the attorneys its 2011 decision to no longer recognize Halftown as the nation's federal representative was overruled on procedural grounds.
The decision, Keel said, was made "without expressing any view on the merits of the underlying dispute, the current leadership of the nation, or the identity or scope of authority of any individual to represent or take action on behalf of the nation."
Although Halftown would be allowed to retain "drawdown authority" for federal grants, Keel stressed the BIA would remain neutral until the nation asked for guidance.
In his argument, Joseph Heath, the Unity Council's attorney, asked Leone to dismiss the case — stating that filing a preliminary injunction could not be done without unlawfully determining who leads the Cayuga Nation.
"An injunction is an inequitable relief," he said. "This is an internal matter."
In addition, Heath stated that the defendants, aside from "John Does 1-100," were comprised of three members of the nation's council and three clan mothers, all of whom provide leadership to the Cayuga Nation.
"This is not just a bunch of individuals," he said. "This is a government."
According to David DeBruin, the plaintiffs' attorney, the leadership dispute dates back nine years.
Since 2005, DeBruin said the Cayuga Nation has debated whether Clint Halftown, Tim Twoguns and Gary Wheeler were properly removed from the nation's council, an ousting DeBruin asserts was not done correctly.
The conflict continued into June of 2011, when clan mothers reportedly stripped Halftown of his title as the tribe's federal representative and as executive officer of Cayuga Enterprises. About two months later, the BIA approved the Unity Council's decision — agreeing they would no longer recognize Halftown as the tribe's federal representative.
In January, however, the Interior Board of Indian Appeals overturned the BIA's 2011 decision — determining that Halftown remained the Cayuga Nation's federal representative.
Four months later, tensions between the opposing factions again boiled over when the Unity Council tried to take control of nation-owned businesses and offices in Union Springs and Seneca Falls.
Halftown and his supporters argued the Unity Council used keys stolen from the nation's office building to seize control of the nation's Lake Side Trading stores. The Unity Council, claiming leadership, said its actions were justified.
As the gas stations opened and closed, police in both counties were repeatedly called to Seneca Falls and Union Springs to keep the peace.
In the midst of the struggle for leadership, Halftown and other Cayuga Nation members filed civil lawsuits in both Cayuga and Seneca county courts. Judges in both counties filed preliminary injunctions early in May, ordering the plaintiffs to show cause during later hearings.
After a lengthy hearing, Judge Bender issued a written decision Monday dismissing the lawsuit, finding that there was no way to intervene in the ongoing dispute without unlawfully deciding who leads the Cayuga Nation.
One day later, Judge Leone made the same decision — dismissing the remaining lawsuit against the Unity Council.
Determining that deciding the plaintiff's case could not be done without taking a stake in the Cayuga Nation's ongoing leadership dispute, Leone found a preliminary injunction ordering the Unity Council to stay away from nation-owned businesses in Union Springs was "unauthorized and inappropriate."
"The court finds, in this instance, it can not determine if plaintiffs, including the nation, had the authority to commence this action or if a viable cause of action exists, because determination of the facts ... would require the court to improperly interfere with the nation's self-government and sovereignty," he said.
But the dismissal, Leone said, does not mean he condones the confrontations between the opposing factions.
"The court joins with Judge Bender ... in advising that the parties settle this matter in a civilized manner and in accordance with the peace, power and righteousness of the nation law," he said.
In a statement issued Monday, Halftown stated he planned to appeal Bender's decision.