Earlier this week the Northern Arapaho Business Council, the governing body of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, filed a lawsuit against its former law firm Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd and the firm’s managing partner.
The four-count civil suit, filed in Wyoming’s 9th Judicial District Court, alleges the law firm has refused to return tribal property despite repeated requests. According to a press release from the tribe, the tribal property includes, “innumerable confidential and other tribal documents,” as well as more than $1 million in tribal funds which the firm held in trust.
“Tribal members and residents of the Wind River Indian Reservation are owed an explanation for what this law firm has done with our people’s money and property,” the Council said in the statement. “We are gravely concerned about financial appropriations that have occurred, especially in recent months as tribal government and the casino have undergone leadership changes. We look forward to a Court bringing transparency to this matter and accountability, at last, for Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd.”
The tribe was represented by Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd since at least 1989 before cutting ties with the firm in early June. According to court documents, in 2002, the law firm drafted and got passed a resolution that installed the firm as a “gatekeeper” for the tribe, inhibiting the Council from retaining other lawyers without their approval.
Additionally, from May 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019, the tribe was billed $827,817.31; an average of nearly $70,000 per month. Justification provided for these large fees were given in one to two page invoices with no descriptions of how the time was billed, identifying which attorney did what task, nor what the product the tribe received, the complaint states.
On top of what was billed to the tribe, Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd also received large sums of money from the tribes casino, Wind River Hotel & Casino. According to court documents, the law firm received more than $170,992 from the casino in June 2019 alone.
The tribe believes this payment was unlawful and has yet to receive information as to why this payment was made.
The Northern Arapaho Business Council is disappointed to say the least, saying the law firm’s refusal to turn over documents is hindering its ability to protect its legal rights.
“This is unacceptable but made all the more worse because of the multi-millions the firm has made off the tribe over many years,” the council said.
Earlier this May, the Council voted 4 to 2 to rescind the 2002 resolution drafted by Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd and have since moved forward with new representation. The law firm named in the suit has also retained their own attorney for the case.
According to court documents, the law firm continues to refuse to return tribal documents in their possession.
“What is most disturbing is that ethical duties of any lawyer require that the lawyer return a client’s documents upon termination of the relationship,” the council said.
The lawsuit seeks a mandate of the immediate return of all tribal documents along with an injunction from the court requiring an accounting and return of all tribal funds. The case remains ongoing.
Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org