CONCHO — The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes are suing a Custer County district judge as they try to free up millions of dollars frozen by a Clinton bank at the end of April.
Custer County District Judge Doug Haught is named in an amended complaint filed Tuesday by the tribes' attorneys in federal court. The tribes had already filed suit against First Bank and Trust Co., claiming roughly $6.4 million was illegally frozen on April 24.
“Defendant First Bank's decision to bring the State Court Action, and Defendant Haught's decision to maintain jurisdiction of the State Court Action, harm the rights of the Tribes to govern themselves by their own laws, as well as harm the rights of individual tribal members to elect and be led by a Governor of their choosing,” the amended complaint states.
Bank officials stated they wanted the funds frozen because of an ongoing leadership dispute within the tribe.
Janice Prairie Chief-Boswell, who is the tribes' disputed governor, and Leslie Wandrie-Harjo, who was lieutenant governor at one time, each claim to be governor of the tribes. The dispute, which has gotten ugly at times and divided the tribes into factions, has raged for more than a year.
A June 8 hearing is set to resolve the banking issue, but a Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes spokeswoman said the effects of the freeze have already caused hardships.
Lisa Liebl, a spokeswoman for the tribes, said checks to vendors, contractors and tribal employees started bouncing soon after the freeze went into effect. She said the tribes' 500 or so employees — excluding casino workers — are now working a reduced work schedule to save money.
Liebl said the tribes' Lucky Star casinos will continue to run without interruption but that many programs administered using federal dollars will have to cease or be scaled back until the banking dispute is resolved.
According to the lawsuit, the tribes claim that key governmental functions such as housing assistance and a food voucher program will be severely cut back if the funds remain frozen. Documents provided by the tribes indicate that hundreds of tribal and nontribal members could be affected if the funds aren't freed up.
Emergency medical services, firefighting units, substance abuse programs and a laundry list of other social services provided by the tribes “will likely be scaled back tremendously,” Liebl said.