Navajo leader challenges vote placing him on leave

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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Days after Navajo lawmakers voted to put the council speaker on paid leave, a tribal judge on Monday denied Johnny Naize's request for a temporary restraining order that would have reinstated him to the helm of the legislative branch.

Last week's vote by lawmakers came months after prosecutors accused him and other tribal officials of engaging in a scheme to divert tribal funds to their own families. Naize has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and bribery charges.

Attorneys for Naize asked a tribal judge on Monday to declare the vote invalid and argued that he was denied due process. They said the action of tribal officials constituted an illegal takeover of the legislative branch that has destroyed relationships and created disharmony. The request named 13 people as defendants, the 12 lawmakers who voted to place Naize on leave and the executive director of legislative services.

"Defendants' conduct shows a low respect for Navajo law and a low likelihood of complying with Navajo law from here forward," the request read.

Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry denied the request for a temporary restraining order and scheduled a hearing on the issue Tuesday morning.

Navajo law does not specifically address placing the tribal council speaker on administrative leave, nor does it specify a vote requirement for doing so. But Navajo law gives broad discretion to lawmakers to discipline council members.

Tribal lawmakers met in a special session Friday to consider legislation to remove Naize from the post he has held since 2011, which would have required a two-thirds vote of the 24-member council. The legislation was amended to place Naize on paid administrative leave instead, and it passed with a simple majority vote.

Lawmaker Leonard Tsosie, who proposed the amendments, said Monday that it is Naize who is promoting disharmony on the Navajo Nation.

"Everything was done according to Navajo laws and council rules," Tsosie said. "He (Naize) was given due process and every opportunity was made for a full debate. The council begged him to do something to address Navajo public's concerns. His inaction only forced the council to do something to protect the integrity of Navajo government."

Lawmaker LoRenzo Bates was selected to fill in for Naize. He said four of Naize's political appointees - fewer than half - showed up for work Monday. Bates said he instructed other permanent legislative workers to continue with business as usual.

"It's unfortunate Speaker Naize is taking legislative down this path," he said. "However, it is what it is and we'll see how the courts deal with that."

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