Quapaw, Okla. (Sept. 08, 2022) – Quapaw Nation Courts had a case on the docket Wednesday that has drawn much interest and sharp criticism since it was filed last year.
On April 19, 2021, the Quapaw Nation filed a civil suit against past Quapaw Nation leaders: John Berrey, Tamara Smiley-Reeves, George (Ranny) McWatters, Marilyn Rogers and four others, including Janet Cummings and Sheri Smiley. The suit also named known and unknown heirs of Merlin (Kent) Jones Jr., former Chief Financial Officer for Downstream Casino Resort – who passed away on or about April 8, 2021 – shortly before the civil complaint was filed.
The allegations against the defendants stem from information obtained in a forensic audit and investigation – into the misappropriation of funds – initiated in June 2020 by the Quapaw Nation Gaming Authority.
Yesterday, Quapaw Nation counsel filed for dismissal in the suit against Sheri Smiley.
“I was pleased to be dismissed from this bogus lawsuit that was filed against me with no evidentiary facts,” said Smiley. “What happened to me is a travesty in Quapaw history and an extreme abuse of power. The last 17 months has fundamentally changed my life and hurt my career and credibility as a lawyer and a professor. Being Quapaw was once of one of the things I was the most proud of. I now feel betrayed and that a huge piece of my identity was taken away. I have a pending lawsuit in Quapaw Tribal court against the individual BC members who made the decision to put out false press releases, when they knew they were false, and look forward to seeing that lawsuit through. Tribal members should demand to know how much was paid to the Barker law firm to carry out this injustice. I firmly believe I was targeted because I spoke up for all tribal members in the Bear case and in questioning the BC on why they distributed $39 million dollars to a select few. Tribal members should never live in fear of being sued if they speak out against their leadership. Those rights of free speech are firmly grounded in the Indian Civil Rights Act. This can not and should not ever happen to another tribal member.”
According to Special Prosecutor Douglas Dry and co-counsel Rob Lawrence, Smiley’s statement is not factually accurate.
“The claim against Sheri was dismissed by us, and that is an important distinction to make,” said Rob Lawrence. “The dismissal was without prejudice to its filing, which means that we can come back and refile it at any time. If additional discovery brings forth more information against Ms. Smiley, we can refile at any time.”
Quapaw Nation also plans to dismiss its claim against Janet Cummings and has a current settlement with her pending.
“The more we dug in the less the relative damages were in the case of Mrs. Cummings,” said Dry. “She returned a large majority of the bonuses and value of comped goods of her own accord. [Dismissing against Smiley and Cummings] was a strategic decision to ensure that we are focused on what is most valuable to the tribe; their time and the largest recovery of assets possible.”
Arguments for dismissal were common yesterday, with some citing Oklahoma’s Strong anti-SLAPP law, also known as the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act. The law allows a defendant to move for dismissal if the lawsuit is based on the defendant’s exercise of free speech, right to petition, or right of association. Okla. Stat. tit. 12 § 1432(A) (2019).
Others argued jurisdictional issues, referencing the resolution that created the courts and advocating that the jurisdiction would lie with the Quapaw Grievance Committee or the Quapaw Nation Gaming Agency.
“Exactly which law applies or what the standards are, could be subject for debate,” said representation for John Berrey. “On the issue of the political question, the source of its applicability your honor – to the Court – is direct, and frankly can’t be questioned, I would submit respectfully, in an objective basis. If we look to the resolution creating this court and the text of it, it says: ‘The Tribal Court shall not have jurisdiction pertaining to any political questions of the tribe or any internal tribal governmental disputes.’ That is a direct quote from paragraph number seven of that ordinance.”
Other arguments on the day included whether specific state laws were applicable or whether federal laws should be followed, particularly regarding the statute of limitations for the complaints.
The next court case for the civil matter has not been set and the next date of the criminal suit is set for Sept. 19, 2022, two days after the next regularly scheduled Business Committee meeting.
The Quapaw Post reached out to Quapaw Courts for comment but had no response at the time of this publishing. The filing for dismissal has been attached to this press release for reference.