In a ruling that a Choctaw Nation attorney called a blow to
tribal sovereignty, a split Oklahoma Supreme Court has held in two
cases that lawsuits against Choctaw casinos can be brought in state
courts as well as tribal courts.
"I've been representing Indian tribes for 40 years, and this is
probably the single most difficult blow for tribal sovereignty that
I have ever seen in my career," said Choctaw counsel Bob Rabon.
"These tribes have never been subject to state court jurisdiction."
The court's decisions came in two lawsuit filed by individuals
claiming they were injured at the Choctaw Casino at Pocola. The
rulings track with justices' recent opinion in the Cossey case,
which involved a lawsuit against Cherokee Nation Enterprises.
Rabon represented the Choctaw Nation in the case involving Danny
and Pat Dye of Lavaca, Ark. Danny Dye alleged that he was injured in
December 2005 when he was hit by a casino shuttle cart.
"This gaming is conducted on Indian country, the tribes' Indian
country," Rabon said.
Previously, he said, no court has attempted to exercise
jurisdiction over a tribe's activities on its own land.
"That's a pretty big grab of jurisdiction, in one fell swoop,"
The longtime tribal attorney declined to say how his clients will
"We've still got arrows in our quiver," Rabon said. "I'm not
going to discuss what our strategy will be, but we're not done.
We're not done by a long shot."
However, he said that in addition to appeal or asking the U.S.
Supreme Court to hear the case, the tribe has an option under its
gaming compact with the state.
"We can resolve this dispute the way the people of the state of
Oklahoma agreed we would do it," Rabon said.
A specific section of the gaming compact is designed to address
such issues, he said.
"It says if there's a dispute regarding interpretation or one
party believes the other party has breached the compact, that we
first try to meet and resolve it," Rabon said. "If that's not
successful, then you submit it to arbitration. Then from there, you
go into federal district court."
He said that is what the state, tribes and people of Oklahoma
agreed to in the ballot question that legalized the current compact-
based tribal casino gaming system.
Rabon said neither the tribes nor the state intended for such
matters to be handled in state courts.
Danny Dye spoke briefly about the decision in his case.
"I really don't have much to comment on this, other than I'm
satisfied with the court ruling," he said. It's been three-and-a-
half years and I'll be glad to get this behind me."
Attorney Daniel Walker represented the Dyes.
"It's been a long time coming," he said. "I'm hoping that now we
can begin litigating this matter in the state court."
Walker, who lives in Muldrow but has his law office in Fort
Smith, Ark. …