Lobbying firm subpoenaed to release documents in Schaghticoke case

Gale Courey Toensing
4/30/07

WASHINGTON - Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, the high-powered lobbying firm at the center of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation's claim that unlawful political pressure forced the BIA to rescind its federal acknowledgement, refused to comply with a federal judge's order to produce documents unless it was subpoenaed, court records show.

On March 19, New Haven U.S. District Court Senior Judge Peter Dorsey ordered BGR - a Republican firm with close ties to the Bush administration - to provide the Schaghticokes' attorneys with all documents relating to BGR's contacts with Congress members or Interior Department officials concerning the tribe from January 2004 through December 2005.

The order is part of STN's ongoing administrative appeal of the BIA's unprecedented reversal in October 2005 of its own previous decision in January 2004 to federally acknowledge the tribe. The appeal names Interior and several department officials as defendants and alleges, among other things, violations of due process, unlawful political influence and congressional interference in the reversed decision.

Although BGR is not a defendant in the appeal, the lobbyist is named in a separate lawsuit filed last July and pending in Superior Court of the District of Columbia in which it is charged with harmful and unlawful interference with the tribe's federal recognition.

BGR was working for Town Action to Save Kent, an anti-Indian sovereignty group that opposes the tribe's recognition and was formed by affluent residents of Kent, Conn., which borders the tribe's 400-acre reservation.

Schaghticoke Attorney Thomas Janick of Dorsey and Whitney LLP (no relationship to Judge Peter Dorsey) notified BGR attorney Ryan Bull of Baker Botts LLP about Dorsey's order on March 20, and the two had several discussions by e-mail and phone over the course of the next several days, court records show.

Bull told Janick in a March 26 e-mail that BGR ''does not submit to the jurisdiction of the Connecticut federal court, and respectfully preserves all objections to any effort by the Connecticut court to exercise jurisdiction over BGR.''

In a March 30 court filing, tribal attorneys reported that BGR would ''not produce documents in response to the court order alone, but instead has required that the Tribe issue a subpoena from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to undertaken the discovery that this Court has already ordered.'' At the same time, Bull said that BGR was planning to produce the documents, but could not meet the April 2 deadline because of technical difficulties, but BGR also refused to submit a joint motion asking the court for an extension and added conditions of secrecy to its document production.

In an e-mail responding to a request for comment from Indian Country Today, Bull said that BGR has ''complied with the judge's order and has produced responsive documents.'' He did not detail the content or number of documents produced.

When asked why BGR would choose this moment to refuse a federal court order, Bull said: ''It was always BGR's intention to comply with the judge's order. The issuance of a subpoena was a jurisdiction issue based on the federal rules.''

According to the court order, STN can now take sworn testimony from the BGR representative ''who, based on the documents, was most clearly aware of the actions taken by BGR on behalf of TASK.''

Schaghticoke attorneys declined to comment.

Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and court records reveal, among other things, BGR/TASK's communications regarding the Schaghticoke with governors from Connecticut and elsewhere, congressional representatives from Connecticut and other states; White House staff, including former White House Director of Political Affairs Ken Mehlman; Interior officials; the national anti-Indian group One Nation United; former Secretary of State and Kent resident Henry Kissinger; and the staff of former Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, who helped BGR achieve the proper ''tone'' in a letter the lobbyist was writing for the Connecticut governor to send McCain, requesting a hearing on the federal recognition process and the Schaghticoke decision.

According to campaign contribution reports, BGR co-founder and Chairman Ed Rogers contributed $5,000 to McCain's election war chest and BGR Vice President John Walker Roberts gave McCain $500. Richard Burt, the president of a BGR-related company called Diligence LLC, contributed $1,000 to McCain. Rogers is a vice chairman of Diligence, which was created in Baghdad in 2003 just three months after the Iraq war was launched. ''The opportunity for business growth in the Middle East has never been better,'' Diligence Chairman Richard Burt said at the time, according to Source Watch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy.

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