Jean & Rebecca Webster’s Contempt For Law, Ethics & Justice

On Tuesday November 26, 2013 at the 9 a.m. Appeals Commission hearing for Docket #13-TC-129, Leah Sue Dodge, Michael Debraska & Cathy Metoxen v. Oneida Business Committee, Appeals Commissioner Jean Webster demonstrated her contempt for Oneida Tribal law, ethics & justice by adamantly refusing to recuse herself from the case despite the fact her nephew Steve Webster’s wife, Atty. Becky Webster, was acting as counsel for the the Respondent.

The Tribe’s Judical Code of Conduct makes it undeniably clear that in doing so Jean Webster acted in violation of Article VI. Disqualification/Recusal which states:

6-1  Judicial Officers shall disqualify themselves in a proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including instances where:

 c.   A Judicial Officer’s spouse, and any reasonably close family member in the Judicial Officer or spouse’s family:

2.   Is acting as a lawyer or advocate in the proceeding

6-2  Judicial Officers shall recuse themselves in cases where some conflict of interest exists, potentially exists, or may be perceived to exist.

Notice that 6-1 & 6-2 don’t say ‘could recuse themselves,’ ‘might recuse themselves,’ or ‘if they feel like it, recuse themselves.’ They plainly says SHALL RECUSE THEMSELVES.”

Oneida Eye readers might recall that at an Appeals Commission hearing on September 18, 2013 regarding a separate matter, for which Jean Webster was acting as Lead Judicial Officer, it was Jean Webster herself who openly acknowledged her relationship with Becky Webster due to the fact that it obviously could (and likely would) be perceived as a conflict of interest and Oneida Eye noted at that time:

Appeals Commissioner Jean Webster admitted that she has a familial relationship with Oneida Law Office Attorney & Land Commission Counsel Becky Webster as the aunt to Becky’s husband. Based on the Judicial Code of Conduct, that alone is grounds for Tribe members to require Jean Webster’s recusal from any matters in which Atty. Becky Webster is involved.

Indeed, the Appeals Commissioners on that case (Docket #13-TC-126) did properly grant the Petitioner’s reasonable request and rightly recused themselves as required by Article VI of the Judicial Code of Conduct, and their September 24, 2013 Decision re: Motion for Recusal stated:

Petitioner’s perception that a conflict of interest existed was also noted to the court when the Petitioner would strenuously object to a Judicial Officer’s responses to remaining on the case and noting to the court that she will object to any Judicial Officer who’s impartiality can reasonable [sic] be questioned. Noting the strong objections the Petitioner and having warned the Petitioner about the risks of delaying the case, the court grants the Petitioner’s request and the current presiding Judicial Officers have recused themselves from this case.

First, it is the right of any petitioner to object – strenuously, if required by the obstinacy of hearing officers – to any Appeals Commissioner acting in violation of the Judicial Code of Conduct as Jean Webster clearly did at the Tuesday November 26, 2013 hearing.

Second, the fact that the Appeals Commissioners including Jean Webster did previously recuse themselves due to perfectly reasonable objections brought to light by Jean Webster herself and the Petitioner’s stated perception that such a conflict of interest was a basis on which to require recusal shows that what Jean Webster did on Tuesday November 26 was an aberration and a violation of not just the rights of the Petitioners in this particular case but also an attack on the integrity of the the Tribal Judicial System itself, which is thus an attack on the Tribe and Tribal sovereignty.

After the Petitioner requested recusal based on the Judicial Code of Conduct the Appeals Commissioners went into recess to consider the Plaintiffs’ objections behind closed doors, at which point it would have been the responsibility of the Lead Judicial Officer – in this case, Mary Adams – to insist that the Judicial Code of Conduct be followed and that Jean Webster do the proper and ethical thing by recusing herself.

Instead, the Judicial officers returned to state that Jean Webster was insistent that she would remain on the case and that she would be allowed to openly violate the Judicial Code of Conduct.

It should be noted that Jean Webster is not an attorney and has no license with the State Bar and therefore cannot be held to professional standards by outside regulating authorities, but Atty. Becky Webster who was acting as counsel for the Respondent (the Oneida Business Committee) is an attorney and therefore had a professional ethical obligation to recuse herself as soon as it was made clear that her husband’s aunt was refusing to follow the Judicial Code of Conduct which creates an untenable conflict of interest.

Predictably, Becky Webster declined to conduct herself ethically and proceeded to try to defend her Motion for Dismissal despite the glaring conflict of interest created by Jean Webster’s intransigent flouting of the Judicial Code of Conduct. Obviously Becky thought it would be in her and her client’s best interest for her husband’s aunt to remain on the case and therefore Becky failed to abide by her professional legal and ethical obligations.

Given, however, that Becky Webster is acting as the attorney for the BC, don’t they – especially the Tribal Chairperson – have an obligation to object to her acting unethically when they’re made aware of it? Of course, the representative at the hearing on behalf of the BC was Vice-Chair Greg Matson and expecting Greg Matson to be able to recognize Becky’s unethical behavior let alone to object to it is a bit like expecting a horse to lay eggs. Nevertheless, the Chairman will be informed, though he too has for the most part demonstrated an obsequious level of deference to the Oneida Law Office no matter what they say or do.

The Petitioner again appropriately objected to the proceedings going forward given that Jean Webster and the other Judicial officers were clearly in violation of the Judicial Code of Ethics. Mary Adams then stated that the Petitioner was in contempt of court, but the Petitioner rightly pointed out that by contemptuously refusing to act in accordance with the Judicial Code of Conduct it was the Judical officers themselves who were in contempt of court.

Mary Adams then stated that if the Petitioner continued to object the case would be dismissed and so the Petitioner called for another recess to consult with the two other Petitioners and together they decided that they would prefer dismissal from the Appeals Commission due to its misconduct rather than tacitly approve the Judicial officers’ blatant contempt for Tribal law, ethics & justice.

When the hearing resumed the Petitioners’ decision was made known and it was noted that, due to the fact that there were three Petitioners involved, they automatically had Constitutional grounds for appeal to the Appellate Court.

The case was dismissed without prejudice and the Plaintiffs were told they did have the right to appeal and that the hearing decision would be issued within thirty days.

Was Jean Webster’s, Mary Adams’ and Sandra Skenadore’s outrageously unethical decision to refuse to uphold the Judicial Code of Conduct simply a stall tactic to benefit Becky Webster and her client the Oneida Business Committee, as well as a means to rob the Plaintiffs of a venue to make their case before an objective body free from conflict of interest?

Is this the kind of unethical conduct and injustice that Tribe members should expect from the Tribal Judicial System which will have its powers and budget expanded in August 2014?

Tribal Chief Financial Officer Larry Barton’s October 4, 2012 ‘Financial Impact of Proposed Law: Judiciary‘ states:

Going forward following the transition, the salaries and benefits of the Oneida Tribal Judiciary Judges would total approximately $680,364 per year. …[T]he actual amount paid currently to Oneida Appeals Commissioners is slightly less than the $434,207 per year average. …[O]n a going forward basis, adoption of this legislation would carry an additional budgetary allocation of approximately $246,157[.]

Perhaps General Tribal Council should reconsider whether there are actually enough qualified Oneida Tribal members who aspire to be judicial candidates that have the intelligence, integrity and ethics in order to justify expanding the Tribal Judicial System if current Appeals Commissioners can’t even be trusted to get the basics of judicial conduct right and instead choose to trample the Tribe’s rights.

As for the merits of the case, Oneida Eye will soon explain in detail exactly why the contract that Chief Counsel Jo Anne House entered into with Lati Hill is bogus and why the Business Committee was wrong to retro-approve it given the fact that Jo Anne House made serious misrepresentations to the BC in an effort to possibly deceitfully induce them to approve Lati Hill for a position for which he is patently unqualified. The question after that being: Why would Jo Anne House do such a thing?

 

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