Government , Legal

Congressional Rules and Ethics committee recommends special session for Edwards’ removal

Photo caption: The Congressional Rules and Ethics committee met on Feb. 25 to discuss possible ethics violations. CODY HAMMER/Osage News

The Congressional Rules and Ethics Committee voted unanimously to recommend a special session for the purpose of removing Congresswoman Shannon Edwards from office for disqualification under the constitution for her appointment as an appellate justice to the Arizona-based Yavapai-Apache Nation Supreme Court.

The committee also voted to waive the rules of procedure for removal and move straight to a vote on a motion for removal. This means if the Congress convenes for a special session to consider the removal of Edwards, there will be no Select Committee of Inquiry to gather evidence for her removal, as was the case with the 2014 removal trial of former-Principal Chief John Red Eagle. It takes eight signatures for the Congress to call itself into a special session.

Congresswoman Angela Pratt, chair of the committee, read off the proposed motion at the end of an hourlong meeting on Feb. 25. The three-member committee discussed the recent events surrounding Edwards Yavapai-Apache appointment. The other two members of the committee are Congresswomen Brandy Lemon and Second Speaker Paula Stabler.

After the Osage News published an article in its February 2020 edition about the swearing-in of Edwards as the Yavapai-Apache’s new appellate justice, allegations began to arise on social media that she disqualified herself to serve as a member of the Congress by taking the judgeship. The News obtained the article about her swearing-in after Edwards sent a copy to the Osage News’ Editorial Board on Jan. 24.

Under Article VI of the Osage constitution, under Section 5, under Disqualifications, it states “… No member of the Osage Nation Congress shall hold any other tribal office under another Indian nation during his/her term of office …”

Under Article VI of the Yavapai-Apache Nation constitution, Section 6 under Term of Office, it states “… The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals shall hold office for three (3) years. The remaining two (2) Appellate Judges shall hold office for two (2) years …”

Congressional Attorney Loyed “Trey” Gill told the committee they could gather their findings and make a recommendation to the Congress at any time, whether it’s for removal or for censure, a lesser charge.

“I will tell you that I’ve had a conversation with Congresswoman Edwards, and she will definitely question whether ‘holding office’ has been defined within the Osage Nation, whether there is any law or decision,” Gill said. “My response to her – has she put that question to the attorney general? So, we may have that answer. You may want to hold off on that recommendation until we hear from the AG, but that’s up to you.”

Pratt asked Attorney General Clint Patterson, who was in attendance, how long it would take him to answer the four questions submitted by Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear in regard to Edwards. Patterson said he was going to wait to see what action the Congress takes before answering those questions.

“As far as a question from Congresswoman Edwards about who or what’s an officer … that’s going to be pretty easy. Because their [Yavapai-Apache] constitution says it is an officer. And clearly, she’s an officer of the Osage Nation by constitution definitions. So, I don’t know what that question would look like, I would have to wait and see it,” Patterson said. “To me, it’s pretty clear cut on both sides.”

Pratt said she had verified with the Clerk of Court for the Yavapai-Apache that Edwards was an appointee, that there is a contract but they could not give it to her.

“As of yesterday afternoon, about 2:30 p.m., the court clerk had not received any notification of resignation from that position,” Pratt said. “I am awaiting confirmation because she said her office isn’t necessarily the office that would receive that resignation.”

She said she has left two messages with the Yavapai-Apache attorney general.

Lemon said she had some questions surrounding the repercussions if Edwards were to be removed.

“I’m concerned because … if she took her oath of office in August of 2019, we went directly into the Tzi-Zho session in 2019. What does that do to the legislation she sponsored?” Lemon asked.

She also asked about the compensation she’s received since August, whether she should have to pay it back, and would the votes she made during the Tzi-Zho Session also come into question.

“I would really like to see a copy of her contract and I hope she will be forthright in giving us a copy of that,” Lemon said.

Congressional rules for removal

According to the Congressional Rules portion on Motion for Removal of Elected and Appointed Officers, “any motion for removal … may only be made during a regular session of Congress or during any special session called for that purpose.”

The rules also state: “The motion (for removal) shall be based on removal for cause, which shall include one or more of the following charges: willful neglect of duty, malfeasance in office, habitual use of alcohol or drugs, inability to meet the qualifications to serve, conviction of a felony or conviction of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude while in office, undermining the integrity of the office, disregard of constitutional duties and oath of office, arrogation of power, or abuse of the government process.”

In the constitution, under Article XII, under Removal, it states: “… The motion for removal shall list fully the basis for the proceeding and must be approved by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the members. Trial on removal shall then be conducted by the Osage Nation Congress with the accused afforded due process and an opportunity to be heard. An Osage Nation Supreme Court Justice, designated by the Supreme Court, shall preside at the trial. Concurrence of five-sixths (5/6) of the members of the Osage Nation Congress is required for a judgment of removal. The judgment shall not extend further than to removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit in the Osage Nation, but shall not prevent proceedings in the courts on the same or related charges.”

Pratt said the Rules & Ethics committee will meet again on Feb. 27 at 10 a.m. where they may recommend to the Congressional Affairs committee that they hire an attorney to represent the Congress in the trial.

To listen to the live broadcast of the Rules and Ethics committee meeting visit https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/multimedia/live-media.

Senior Reporter Benny Polacca contributed to this report.