Isleta tribal councilors suspended from serving in office

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Last month, restraining orders were placed against two Isleta Pueblo tribal councilors by Gov. Frank Lujan and the majority of the tribal council.

According to the restraining orders, filed Feb. 24 against councilors Diane Peigler and ReGina Zuni, their "potential appearance at Council meetings and/or other official meetings, has created a disturbance, disruption and a hostile environment causing the tribal government the inability to perform its constitutional duties."

The restraining orders come after several controversial issues involving Zuni and Peigler, including the womens' suspension from the tribal council and the removal of Peigler by tribal police on Feb. 21 from a council meeting.

"Essentially, the RO (restraining order) was filed to prohibit Diane and me from attending (tribal council) meetings," said Zuni in an email.

Zuni said she was suspended from the tribal council on Feb. 9, but did not find out about her suspension until the next meeting on Feb. 16.

"Years back, a faction of rogue tribal councilors opted to use suspension to silence tribal councilors they deemed a threat to the status quo," said Zuni. "Since then, certain tribal councilors utilize suspension to single out and silence tribal councilors."

Peigler said Isleta Police Department officers left the restraining order on her doorstep. She called the officers later and made them return to her home and hand deliver it to her.

"I also told (the officers) that I am still a councilwoman and have been for 10 years now, but I have never been so disrespected until today when they left the RO on my doorstep," said Peigler.

Peigler was suspended from the council on Jan. 24.

Some of the stipulations of the order includes that the women shall be prohibited from attending tribal council meetings, cease intimidation and harassment of tribal officials and tribal employees, prohibited from entering tribal government buildings unless on personal business and are not allowed to "represent the Pueblo of Isleta in any way as a Tribal Councilwoman, as per the suspension order issued by the Pueblo of Isleta Ethics Board."

The restraining order also calls for the women to "cease malicious and slanderous content from social media, including blogs and Facebook."

Peigler operates a blog, peigler.wordpress.com, which is critical of the tribal government.

And both women belong to a Facebook forum, Isleta "Haw-Men-Choo" Forum, that describes itself as "a centralized online community forum that allows Isleta tribal members, tribal employees and tribal officials to freely express their thoughts, ideas and suggestions on events that affect the Isleta tribal members, tribal employees, tribal programs, tribal enterprises, tribal government and tribal officials."

On Dec. 30, 2010, the Pueblo of Isleta Tribal Council amended and adopted an ethics code. Peigler and Zuni claim the code was never sent to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for approval and is therefore moot.

According to the tribal constitution, "Any ordinance, resolution, or other enactment of the council which, by the terms of this constitution or in conformity with applicable Federal law, is subject to approval by the Secretary of the Interior …"

When asked if the code had been sent to the BIA for approval, tribal attorney Pablo H. Padilla said in an email, "That very question is in litigation right now, so I advised tribal government officials to not answer that right now."

According to the code, its purpose is to "require accountability of the People of the Pueblo of Isleta by their elected and appointed tribal officials…"

The code is intended to establish standards of conduct, including prohibiting conflicts of interest, use of confidential information for private gain, using their position to coerce, threaten, or intimidate a person or group for financial gain, recluse from taking official action on a matter in which they have a personal economic interest and offenses of moral turpitude.

The code also requires the establishment of a three-member ethics board who hears claims of any ethics code violation.

According to the code, in the event of a claim of ethics code violation, the board has 10 working days to perform an initial review of the complaint.

On Oct. 28, ethics complaints were filed against Peigler and Zuni by Tribal Councilor Cynthia Jaramillo and tribal members Matthew Zuni and his fiancee, Kateri Jojola. Zuni is Jaramillo's son.

The complaint by Matthew Zuni and Jojola alleges Piegler violated standards of conduct and restricted activities and that both women violated conflict of interest.

Jaramillo alleges that Peigler violated conflict of interest and official capacity of tribal officials — using ones title while conducting personal business and knowingly misinform individuals to purposely discredit the integrity of the government or individual elected or appointed official.

The complaints were filed under the pueblo's ethics code.

The ethics complaints refer to an incident that occurred involving Peigler, ReGina Zuni, Matthew Zuni and Jojola at Subway in Bosque Farms on Sept. 6, in which Matthew Zuni and Jojola allege they were assaulted by Peigler.

According to Pueblo of Isleta Ethics Board documents, the tribal council heard Matthew and Jojola's complaints on Sept. 13 against Peigler. The documents state that after hearing the complaintants' story, with the exception of Zuni and Peigler who were excused from the discussion, the council unanimously agreed that "it was a matter for the ethics board and directed Complaintants to file an ethics complaint if they wished to pursue their grievance."

Almost two weeks later, a civil complaint was filed by Matthew Zuni and Jojola against Peigler in Los Lunas Magistrate Court, claiming she assaulted them at the Subway.

The case is still pending, but in a statement, Chad McCall, who witnessed the incident, said "The male (Zuni) and the lady (Peigler) continued their discussion until the female (Jojola) of the couple intervened and had the male (Zuni) remove himself from the conversation and they left the premise without incident. No physical altercation occurred."

In her answer to the complaint, Piegler states, "Ms. (Cynthia) Jaramillo was convicted before the Isleta Tribal Courts for violence against a minor child. As an elected official, I questioned whether Ms. Jaramillo's criminal conviction disqualified her from serving on the Tribal Council. Due to my inquiry, Ms. Jaramillo and her son, Matthew Zuni, have held resentment and animosity toward me.

"Plaintiffs are using the judicial process before the magistrate court for an illegitimate end," the answer states. "Plaintiffs used their complaint filed with the Magistrate Court as a means of attacking me politically before the Isleta Council."

Peigler and Zuni say that the tribal council is operating under double standards and that there are other tribal officials in violation of both the ethics code and the Pueblo of Isleta tribal constitution that are being overlooked.

According to the constitution, any member of the council found guilty of a misdemeanor "involving misconduct reflecting on the dignity and integrity of the tribal government" may be removed or recalled from office.

According to a Valencia County Detention Center booking form, dated July 2007, Jaramillo pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of assault and battery.

Lt. Gov. Edward Paul Torres was convicted of DWI last month in Los Lunas Magistrate Court. According to the police report, he told officers, "Can I just say something? I don't want to influence you, sir. I wasn't paying attention. I am the lieutenant governor here at Isleta Pueblo."

Tribal attorney Padilla also pleaded guilty to DWI in Albuquerque Metropolitan Court in 2005.

The ethics complaint against Peigler was submitted to the ethics board on Nov. 4, and it's initial review was completed on Nov. 16. According to the code, from the date the complaint is submitted, the board has five working days to commence an investigation and 30 calendar days of receipt of the complaint to complete its investigation of the complaint.

After the 30 days are up, if warranted by the board, it may extend its investigation for no more than 15 extra calendar days.

Under these stipulations, the board then had until Dec. 19 at the latest to complete its investigation on Peigler's case. From that date, the ethics code states that the board has 30 calendar days to hold a hearing to determine whether the allegations in the complaint are true and what penalty, if any, shall be imposed.

Then, the board has 10 working days from the day of the hearing to render a written decision on the case that shall include findings of facts, conclusion of law and sanctions imposed.

According to the default judgment order by the ethics board, Peigler's hearing was held on Jan. 24, six calendar days later than the 30 day cut-off mark stipulated by the ethics code. The code does not state the recourse for a hearing held after the cut-off time.

Peigler said she and her attorney were notified of the hearing less than 24 hours prior. According to dates on an email between Judith L. Durzo, an attorney and member of the ethics board, and Piegler's attorney, Alvin Garcia, Piegler's scheduling order was sent on Saturday, Jan. 21, and received by Garcia on Monday, Jan. 23.

Peigler did not attend the Jan. 24 hearing because she said she was at the Pueblo of Isleta Appeals Court filing a petition questioning the constitutionality of the ethics code, which she said was denied.

Because Peigler did not attend the Jan. 24 hearing, a default judgment was issued against her, stating that she would be suspended from her position on the council pending another hearing on the "penalty issue."

On Jan. 30, Peigler was notified that pursuant of the default judgment, she would be given a "penalty phase hearing" on Tuesday, Feb. 9, where "although she was found guilty to be in violation of the POI Ethics Code, she would be granted a hearing to argue the penalty issue."

Peigler said she did not attend the Feb. 9 hearing because, she says, there is "no such thing" as a penalty phase in the ethics code and questions the council's authority to suspend her under the ethics code.

She said according to the ethics code, the board should have issued her a written decision on her case within 10 days of the Jan. 24 hearing, which she says they did not.

The code requires the establishment of a three-member ethics board who shall hear claims of any ethics code violation. All of the orders from the ethics board in the matter of Diane Peigler are signed by only two members, Ray W. Abeita, acting ethics board chairman, and Durzo, ethics board member.

Since the ethics board did not follow the guidelines of the ethics code in regards to the ethics complaint against her, Peigler says her suspension from the council is unfounded.

"The ethics board met on Feb. 9 for a penalty hearing, and I have not been penalized at all. Then, by default, my suspension is lifted and I am entitled to be here and sit in the chair I was elected to fill," said Peigler.

On Feb. 21, Peigler attended a tribal council meeting where she was removed by tribal police and placed into custody without charges.

According to a criminal complaint filed later against Peigler on Feb. 26, charging her with disorderly conduct, Officer Lisa Cheromiah wrote that officers entered the tribal council meeting and spoke with Tribal Council President Fred Lujan, who stated that Peigler, because of her 90-day suspension, was asked to leave the council meeting, but refused.

In an audio recording of the meeting, Peigler, before being removed, says, "Before you try to remove me, or even touch me, I want you to think about two things, the embarrassment of our tribe and our people when I have to go to federal court for your violation of the Indian Civil Rights Act."

In a statement regarding her suspension, Peigler wrote, "This is a really sad time for our community. Many of our tribal members are confused and disgusted about the recent events. Tribal members are aware of the unlawful way that the governor and tribal council have acted … Where do tribal members go if our own leaders are violating the law?"

Gov. Lujan said he couldn't comment on the restraining order issue because it's a legal matter.


-- Email the author at udavila@news-bulletin.com.