Settlement reached in Osage News v. Chief Red Eagle lawsuit

A settlement has been reached in the Osage News lawsuit against Osage Nation Principal Chief John Red Eagle, ending the tribal court case regarding the open records law.

On Oct. 29, attorneys for the newspaper and Chief Red Eagle both signed and filed a one-page stipulated dismissal of the case ending the case with prejudice. As part of the case dismissal agreement, Chief Red Eagle offered to pay the newspaper’s attorney fees of $4,550 to end the four-month court case. The newspaper’s Editorial Board voted unanimously to accept the offer on Sept. 27.

The Osage News filed suit against the Chief in June after his office did not respond to its open records requests for a consultant contract between the Chief and professional steer roper Rod Hartness, whom he hired as a consultant on energy-related matters.

On June 18, the newspaper filed a complaint against the Chief’s office asking the tribal court to compel the Chief to comply with the open records act after the newspaper’s Jan. 31 written open records request for the Hartness contract went unanswered. On June 26, Chief Red Eagle’s attorney Kirke Kickingbird filed a written response to the newspaper’s complaint and included a copy of the Hartness contract with the court filing.

According to the contract dated Jan. 17 signed by both Hartness and Chief Red Eagle, Hartness agreed to provide pipeline and energy industry consultation services paid at the rate of $75 per hour for a maximum of $4,000 per month through Sept. 30, 2013. The contract was capped at $36,000, including travel, unless so authorized by the Chief.

With the contract made public, the newspaper then asked for the Chief’s office to pay its court and attorney fees, but the Chief initially refused to do so, sparking further court proceedings including an unsuccessful attempt by the Chief to dismiss the case in August.

Tulsa-based attorney Stephen Lee represented the Osage News in this case and Oklahoma City-based law firm Hobbs, Straus, Dean and Walker, LLP, represented the Chief.

According to ON accounting records, the Chief’s office paid Lee’s expenses billed for $4,550 on Oct. 16.

According to the settlement, the agreement to drop the case is not an admission of wrongdoing on Chief Red Eagle’s part and the issue will be revisited when the removal trial for Chief Red Eagle commences on Jan. 13 with the Third ON Congressional special session scheduled to start that day.

In a separate action originally considered by the Congress in its two-month committee investigation of 15 initial allegations, the open records fight over the Hartness contract is listed as a consideration item during the removal trial along with five other allegations recommended for the all-Congress member jury to consider. The recommendation for further action comes after the Select Committee of Inquiry investigation found the six allegations warranted cause for a removal trial to take place.