Navajo Nation Supreme Court reduces attorney sanction

In late 2010, the Navajo Nation’s Supreme Court lifted its permanent disbarment of the tribe’s former chief legislative counsel.

The tribal Supreme Court disbarred Frank Seanez after asking him to justify why he was advising the Tribal Council to defy court orders.

Seanez said he was acting within his statutory duties and petitioned the court to reconsider his disbarment. The Court granted the request and reduced the sanctions, saying his permanent disbarment serves no purpose in healing a government in chaos.

The opinion written by Chief Justice Herb Yazzie said the Court was unwavering in its finding that Seanez’s actions constituted gross misconduct that required accountability.

Seanez has said that Navajo law allows debate about the legality or appropriateness of court decisions. He said that he is thankful for the opportunity to serve the Navajo people and for the reduced sanction. 

The Court said Seanez will be prohibited from practicing law on the reservation for at least four years. He can apply to the court to be reinstated to the Navajo Nation Bar Association after developing an approved course on the ethical standards and responsibilities of tribal government lawyers and teaching the course for three consecutive years.

If reinstated, Seanez cannot return to his former job in which he had the authority to issue formal legal opinions, the Ccourt ruled. Only the chief legislative counsel and the tribe’s attorney general can issue such opinions.

The Court said that Seanez’s advice justified the Tribal Council’s defiance of its orders and provided immunity for that defiance. The enforcement of court orders is essential to the function of the court, Yazzie wrote.

“Under all circumstances, it is the heightened duty of the government lawyer to be independent, candid, neutral rather than partisan because of their duty to the public trust, and most of all thorough in their analysis,” the chief justice said

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