Government , Legal

Judge grants preliminary injunctive relief; halts removal trial of Edwards

Photo caption: A judge has granted Congresswoman Shannon Edwards’ request for a preliminary injunction, thus preventing the 6th Osage Nation Congress from proceeding with a removal trial. Courtesy Photo

An Osage Nation Trial Court Judge has granted Congresswoman Shannon Edwards’ request for a preliminary injunction, thus preventing the 6th Osage Nation Congress from proceeding with a removal trial.

After more than two hours of hearing oral arguments over the phone from both parties on June 17, Judge William Oldfield issued his ruling. Representing Edwards was Justin Bates of Oklahoma City-based Phillips Murrah P.C. Representing Congress members Alice Goodfox, Joe Tillman, Paula Stabler, Archie Mason and RJ Walker, who were members of the Congressional Select Committee of Inquiry that has since disbanded, was William Grimm of Tulsa-based Barrow & Grimm P.C.

“I am granting injunctive relief until such time as Congress has made a rule on how to populate a Select Committee of Inquiry that is not unconstitutional and that is not repugnant to the holdings in Red Eagle,” he said. “I believe the committee was populated without a rule in place, therefore I believe the report of the committee is invalid as it was reached in a decision that was repugnant to Red Eagle and the Constitution.

“Therefore, after Congress has adopted a rule on how to populate the Select Committee of Inquiry, in the words of Red Eagle, ‘you must start the removal process again.’”

The removal trial was set to begin on June 23. Edwards lost her re-election bid for a fourth term on June 1 and said she is saddened by the events of the past four months.

“The ruling reaffirms that the Osage Constitution affords every member of the Nation due process. The judge dismissed the argument that a majority of Congress can make, break, and change rules at will without regard to the individual rights of Osage officials and other citizens. Many of you spoke out against what occurred in the name of Congress, including some Congress members, and finally our voices were heard. This is a victory for the Osage People, for our Constitution and for the Osage institutions established by them,” Edwards wrote in an emailed statement on June 18. 

“Yesterday’s ruling sends a message to those officials who might misuse their offices to disseminate false accusations and seed public discord. I end my service to the Nation deeply saddened by the events of the past four months, but also very appreciative of the fourteen year opportunity the Osage People gave me to help shape our government and to provide service and assistance. Thank you,” Edwards said.

According to Oldfield’s 7-page ruling, he cites the 2013 Osage Nation Supreme Court ruling in the case Red Eagle v. ON Congress et al. A Supreme Court Justice cannot appoint members of the Congressional Select Committee of Inquiry because it is “… outside the scope of its authority in Article XII …” of the Constitution, for removal. Chief Justice Meredith Drent assigned Justice Elizabeth Lohah Homer to appoint the SCOI that investigated Edwards and recommended her removal to the body of Congress.

“Looking at page 2 of the Red Eagle decision, it’s clear to this court, this trial court, that rule 12.1(1)(e) was invalidated. It was invalidated years ago. Congress and the Supreme Court proceeded under Ms. Edwards removal trial regardless. I believe and this court holds, that they proceeded to populate a Select Committee of Inquiry in contradiction and repugnant to the holdings of Red Eagle,” Oldfield said. “Unlike Red Eagle, we have a chance to fix this now and effectuate justice before there is a removal trial.”

He ordered that the SCOI’s report be thrown out and that Congress could not proceed with the removal trial until they come up with “a new constitutional rule to populate the SCOI” and that Edwards “is made aware of the new Rule and given a reasonable opportunity to prepare for trial. After the new Rule is in place, Congress must start the removal procedure over again.”

He reiterated his ruling was a preliminary injunction and not a permanent injunction and that if the defendants wanted to appeal they could do so.

“I believe this is a constitutional due process error that Ms. Edwards has a right to know what the rules are and has a right to have those rules followed, it involves questions of due process,” he said. “Such, this is a constitutional error and I cannot say a constitutional error is harmless. It is a fundamental error and can be raised by this court at any time. I find so here now.”

Grimm spoke on behalf of his clients.

“Obviously, the Osage Congress needs to consider its alternatives. For now, Judge Oldfield's decision prevents the Osage people from hearing an explanation from Congresswoman Edwards for her actions of taking an oath to assume the office as appellate judge for the Yavapai-Apache Nation,” Grimm said. “Instead, the factual evidence of the SCOI report remains unanswered by her.”