Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The re-appointment of Judge Robert Crowley

Today, February 5, 2008 Justice Robert Crowley came before the Legislative Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary for re-appointment to the Superior Court Bench.

For those of you who do not know this, Judge Crowley was the judge who placed three tribal chiefs under arrest for not complying with his court order to turn over internal tribal documents to the paper companies. I felt it was my duty as the Penobscot Nation tribal Representative to take Judge Crowley to task for his treatment and courtroom demeanor he showed during this contempt hearing in November of 2000.

I have included my testimony before the committee. I knew they would re-appoint him no matter what but I just wanted him to remember that Tribal Chiefs deserve respect in the courtrooms of this State. I think he got the message and I hope other judges will too. The committee did not confirm him with the usual speed. He had some time to think and remember. The following is my testimony in full:

Testimony before the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary
Testimony against the Re-Appointment of Judge Robert Crowley to the Superior Court
February 5, 2008

By Representative Donna M Loring, Penobscot Nation

Good Afternoon Senator Hobbins and Representative Simpson and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary.

I stand before you today in opposition to the re-appointment of Judge Robert Crowley to the Superior Court. This is an action that I do not take lightly but I cannot sit idly by as the Penobscot Nation Representative and let this appointment go unchallenged.

Let me give you a bit of background before I go into my specific objections.
I will be talking about a particular contempt hearing where Judge Crowley placed three Tribal Chiefs under arrest. Chief Richard Doyle, Chief Richard Stevens and Chief Barry Dana.

On November 9, 2000 the Chiefs were ordered to the Androscoggin Court house for a contempt hearing. The Tribes had failed to turn over certain documents of tribal Council minutes and papers having to do with the river and our correspondence with the Passamaquoddy tribe, The Environmental Protections Agency and Federal agencies. The original motion was filed in State court under the State Freedom of Information Act. The filing was a result of the tribes opposition to the paper companies getting a direct permit to discharge pollutants into the rivers. Normally they have to go through EPA as well as the State DEP. Tribes fought this direct permit process and as a result the paper companies filed this motion for freedom of Access to our internal documents in State Court.

The preservation of clean water and a toxic free river was vital in maintaining the health of our tribal members, our tribal traditions and our culture. Judge Crowley ordered the tribes to turn over the requested documents. Now with this order by Judge Crowley we not only saw our quest for clean water but the very lives of our tribal members and our internal tribal matters in jeopardy. This was a very serious threat to our people and to our governments. The tribes refused to turn these documents over believing that this was indeed an internal tribal matter under Federal Indian Law. Our attorneys were prepared to make that argument.

As I arrived at the Court House that day I had no idea of what the out come would be but the way the hearing unfolded surprised and shocked me. I must say that while I was at this contempt hearing, I had to pinch myself to be certain I was not dreaming. I had such a sense of powerlessness. I felt I had traveled back in time to the late fifties and early sixties in the deep South.

This Judge gave the tribal chiefs not one iota of respect. He told them to stand up and identify themselves. There was a direct tone of disrespect. He cut off the tribal attorneys when they tried to talk about tribal sovereignty and Federal Indian law. He would not allow them to say anything about tribal government status, our culture or our traditions.

He continuously used the word “political subdivision” stating the tribes were not sovereign at all but total political sub-divisions of the State. He was an angry man. It showed in his tone and the way he addressed the chiefs and spoke to them. My problem is not with his decision although it was dead wrong, but with his demeanor and his degrading treatment of the Chiefs of three Tribal Governments.

There were around fifty or so tribal members and tribal sympathizers in the Court Room. I sat there observing this judge and his actions, his words and his demeaning tone, feeling incredulous that our chiefs and our attorneys could be treated so disrespectfully. The attorneys for the paper companies on the other hand were listened to intently and treated with respect and when the judge spoke he spoke in a civil tone in an almost friendly banter. I thought I knew where this was going. I did know but didn’t know how far this judge was going to go.

Judge Crowley stated that unless the Tribes Appealed in the State Court system that our Chiefs would go to jail until we decided to comply with his order. When the judge mentioned jail you could hear the whole courtroom take a collective breath in shock and disbelief. The Judge abruptly stood and left the bench. The Court security officer then proceeded to take the Chiefs into custody. The tribal attorneys quickly physically pulled the chiefs into the Judges chamber. They were able to persuade the judge to allow our chiefs to have the weekend to confer with their respective Tribal Councils. He reconvened and made the Chiefs stand as if they were criminals and promise one by one to return to his court on Monday with the papers or with an Appeal to the State Court system or be willing to go to jail. Talk about under duress and a gun to the head! This was not the way our chiefs or any citizen should be treated. We were forced to keep this case in the State system by fear tactics. (This blatantly unfair)

The tribes did appeal. The arrest order was not appealed, however, on appeal, (In the same court system we were forced to proceed in) the Maine Supreme Court ruled that yes we had to turn over documents but did find that “internal tribal matters” did pertain to some things and recognized our sovereign status in those areas. The Maine Supreme Court reached out and took the arrest threat off the table. They remanded the case back to Judge Crowley who proceeded to insist that these documents be turned over and gave the paper company attorneys the right to go into our offices located on our reservations and go though our administrative files. The tribes stated that these attorneys would not be allowed on tribal property, and the fact that this Judge granted that kind of access was again ignoring our sovereign status. Our attorney’s filed a motion to appeal this and the paper companies came back with a counter motion asking the judge to sanction our attorneys for frivolous motions and wasting the courts time. This put a chilling effect on our representation. The tribes decided to take the files off the reservation and turn them over in Augusta. The frivolous motion by the paper companies was never ruled on. The conduct of this judge in this case certainly does not reflect a judge who respects and treats people with civility and respect in his courtroom.
There was a lack of respect and civility in this judge’s courtroom.
Three tribal Chiefs were ordered to jail. There were threats of jail used to coerce the tribes into filing an appeal on this case in State Court to keep it in the State Court system. I would ask the committee to consider this judge’s conduct toward the Chiefs in his courtroom. I remind you again that I am not arguing his court decisions but rather his courtroom demeanor and treatment of the Tribal Chiefs.
Thank you.

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