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By Mike Hudson

The Seneca Nation Court of Appeals ruled last week that the Tribal Council had no authority to overturn an earlier court decision stripping the Seneca Gaming Corp. and its CEO, Mickey Brown, of sovereign immunity.

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Additionally, the court ruled, eight Council members who are also members of the corporation's board of directors violated the tribe's ethics law in overturning the decision.

The rulings pave the way for a new round of litigation in the runup to November's tribal elections, and some say the court cases will ultimately be decided in either federal court or the New York State Supreme Court.

At issue is whether or not Brown and the gaming corporation are protected under the same sovereign immunity guaranteed to the Seneca Nation under the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1795.

In a July filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, the Senecas themselves expressly give up their right to sovereign immunity in all matters relating to the corporation.

But Brown has claimed immunity from sanctions by the Seneca court system.

"It's crazy," one Seneca leader told the Reporter. "We allow him to give away the sovereignty we've had for more than 200 years, and then he turns around and says that it applies to him."

The Tribal Council, acting on advice from attorneys with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Aiken, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, overturned an Aug. 10 decision by the appeals court that not only dismissed Brown's claim of sovereign immunity, but found the entire gaming corporation to be an illegal entity under the Seneca Constitution.

The appeals court decision, the attorneys argued, would endanger the corporation's bid to borrow $300 million for casino expansion in Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Erie County.

In an extraordinary closed-door proceeding, the Tribal Council overturned the court's decision.

"You've got (Seneca Nation President) Rickey Armstrong and eight Tribal Councillors who are paid board members of the gaming corporation," one source said. "How can they rule on matters relating to the corporation?"

The Securities and Exchange Commission has been deluged with paperwork filed by disgruntled Senecas seeking to derail the corporation's efforts to put the tribe $300 million farther into debt.

Ultimately, attorneys working for the SEC will have to untangle the murky legal and financial mess created by Brown's corporation.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Sept. 21 2004