New lawsuit filed over Pechanga membership - Saturday 12th of March 2005

Descendants of a contested 19th century tribal leader have filed a second lawsuit in connection with their ouster from the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians ---- this time suing at least 30 members they say helped persuade tribal leaders to disenroll them.

The latest lawsuit was filed March 17 in Riverside County Superior Court on behalf of 133 adult members and their families who were kicked out of the tribe in March 2004. The same group filed suit in January 2004 to stop the tribe from revoking their memberships, claiming that would be a violation of Pechanga law. That lawsuit is still working its way through the courts.

The defendants named in the new lawsuit are some tribal members who claim to be on the enrollment committee and some who are either members or related to members of a faction that attempted to split up the tribe in the 1980s and now calls itself the Concerned Pechanga People, according to the lawsuit.

The defendants are trying to decrease the number of adult members to increase their own clout within the tribe and thereby enlarge their share of casino revenues, the lawsuit states. And they are liable for interfering in the enrollment committee's decision-making process, said Jon Velie, he attorney for the ousted members.

"We know the Concerned Pechanga People have taken actions to influence the disenrollment of my clients," Velie said. "To what extent and who did is what will be (ascertained in the future)."

The lawsuit has not been served yet, said Brian Unitt, a Riverside attorney also working on behalf of the plaintiffs.

As he has consistently throughout the dispute, Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro declined comment.

"This is a private tribal matter," he wrote in an e-mail. "Out of respect for our customs and traditions, we will not comment."

The enrollment committee revoked the membership of the former members, claiming they had no legal basis for being part of the tribe. John Gomez Jr., a spokesman for the ousted members, said earlier this month that the tribal leadership kept changing its reasons for the revocation. First, the ousted members were told it was because Pablo Apis ---- the Temecula band's founder and former chief, according to his descendants ---- passed away before the Pechanga reservation was established.

Members were also told that it was because Apis' granddaughter, Manuela Miranda, did not live on the reservation when it was established in 1882. Macarro has never said publicly why the members were ousted, saying the issue was an internal tribal matter. Earlier this month after the dedication of a park in Temecula to Apis, he said that Apis was named by the Spanish of that era to be a tribal leader, not by the tribe itself.

The Superior Court determined in July that the original case could be heard in state court under a federal statute that allows individual Indians to sue other Indians. Both sides are still waiting for the 4th District Court of Appeals in Riverside to set a date for oral arguments in the original lawsuit, Velie said.
br>Since being disenrolled, the adult plaintiffs are losing about $15,000 per month, as well as other benefits, including health insurance. They are seeking an as yet unspecified amount of financial compensation for the damages they have suffered.

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