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  • Lani Hansen

UKB Court issues injunction against additional Chief impeachment remedies

UKB Chief Joe Bunch celebrated with family and supporters after the impeachment hearing concluded during the early morning hours of Wednesday, January 8, and only a censure was issued. BRITTNEY BENNETT/GCN


TAHLEQUAH – The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Court has issued a temporary injunction to block additional impeachment remedies placed upon Chief Joe Bunch at the June 6 Tribal Council meeting.

On July 16 Judge Charles H. Tripp issued an "ex parte temporary injunction" in favor of Bunch until a full hearing can be conducted on July 31 at 10:30 a.m.

"Based upon the pleading alone, it would appear that the Tribal Council made a finding and subsequently punished the Chief, Joe Harold Bunch by censure. Then it appears as through after such finding and punishment the Tribal Council issued additional punishment. Normally, you only get one bite at the apple and in this case censure was done. Any additional punishments are hereby temporarily enjoined until hearing on the likelihood of success and any possible irreparable harm if not allowed to proceed."

Bunch was originally impeached on five counts during a hearing held Jan. 7, 2020.

Under the definition of the UKB Impeachment Code, “impeachment” means: “A proceeding against a public officer before a body, instituted by a written accusation called ‘articles of impeachment’.”

Remedies proposed at the time for Bunch included removal from office, but Council elected to only issue an official censure letter, or reprimand, before the meeting concluded in the early morning hours of Jan. 8.

Bunch filed an appeal of the charges with the UKB Courts and has since continued to serve in his official capacity as chief of the UKB.

However on June 6, Sequoyah County District Representative Barry Dotson made a motion to approve an addendum to the impeachment remedies, reading a letter that proposed several new items in addition to the censure.

“If passed by council this addendum will become part of the official censure of Chief Joe Bunch, will take effect immediately and will be effective until the winner of the next election for chief is sworn into office or until Council rescinds this addendum, whichever is earlier,” Dotson read. “If this addendum is approved by Council, the additional remedies for impeachment shall be: The chief shall have no supervision authority over any employees. The chief shall have no CEO powers. The chief shall be removed as a signatory from the band’s bank account. The chief shall refrain from any travel on behalf of the UKB. If the chief violates any of these remedies, he shall resign effective immediately.”

The tribe’s Attorney General Klint Cowan clarified that Dotson's letter was “identical” to what Councilors drafted after discussion in February.

“Some council members wanted to add certain things to the punishment of the chief after the impeachment had already happened. In response to that, I had prepared this in February. The Council didn’t want to move forward with it, so this is the same as what we had in February,” explained Cowan. “These would be additional punishments in addition to what you decided at the impeachment hearing when you decided to only censure the chief…”

Dotson’s motion was given a second by Treasurer Ella Mae Worley and passed by a vote of 8-3-1.

In addition to Worley and Dotson, Assistant Chief Jamie Thompson and Councilors Frankie Still, Jeannie Tidwell, Sharon Benoit, Adalene Smith and Peggy Girty all voted in favor. Councilors Eddie Sacks, Charles Smoke and Jeff Wacoche voted against, while Secretary Joyce Hawk voted to abstain.

Unless reversed by Council or at the UKB Court hearing on July 31, the legislation will remain in place until the next chief's election is held on November 2, 2020.

"The Council has chosen to act illegally and outside the UKB Constitution by changing the outcome of the hearing months after it was completed," said Bunch. "This ruling preserves the foundational principle of our constitution."

This is a developing story and will be updated after the July 31 hearing is held.



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