A federal judge has ordered a southern Arizona tribe to produce records showing what the tribal council and one of its district councils discussed in 2002 and 2003 about plans to open a Phoenix-area casino.
The order from U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell came over the objections of lawyers for the Tohono O’Odham Nation, who argued that legislative and attorney-client privilege barred the release of notes taken during closed sessions.
Campbell also barred tribal witnesses from claiming legislative privilege when questioned about the tribe’s plans.
The Arizona Gaming Department is trying to show that the tribe engaged in fraud when it entered into a 2002 gambling regulation agreement with the state that was approved by voters. The tribe bought land near University of Phoenix stadium in 2009 and announced plans to build a large casino there.
The casino opened last year with limited gambling because the state is refusing to issue certificates allowing full casino operations.
The tribe sued, arguing that the state gambling compact and federal law allowed it to open the casino. Arizona counter-sued, arguing that the tribe secretly planned the casino while publicly saying it would not be allowed to build a casino in the Phoenix area.
Campbell has allowed the state to pursue that part of its counterclaim, saying it can argue that it relied on the tribe’s statements that it didn’t plan a Phoenix-area casino.
Department spokeswoman Amanda Jacinto on Wednesday declined to comment on ongoing litigation. Tohono O’Odham Nation Chairman Edward D. Manuel issued a statement saying the ruling was simply a response to a typical pre-trial dispute over what evidence should be handed over.
“The Nation looks forward to fully litigating this matter and remains confident the final outcome will be in favor of the Nation,” Manual said. “There have been 20 straight decisions by courts and federal agencies in favor of the Nation’s casino project.”
The tribe has prevailed in a separate case that said the agreement does not specifically bar the tribe from building outside southern Arizona. Campbell issued that ruling in 2013. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision earlier this year.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has threatened to cancel the gambling agreement with the tribe if it persists in pursuing a full casino operation at the $200 million West Valley Resort, but has taken no action.
Campbell’s ruling, issued Tuesday, will allow lawyers for the state to review notes, minutes and agendas from closed sessions of tribal and district council during the time the agreement was before voters and immediately after. The titles of the documents show the discussions appear to cover the land where the tribe built the casino and could bolster other evident the state claims show the tribe misrepresented its plans when the agreement was negotiated.
The Tohono O’Odham currently operates full casinos near Tucson.
The tribe bought the site just outside Glendale after receiving a $30 million federal settlement to replace nearly 10,000 acres of reservation land damaged by a dam.