Judge grants tribe injunction against contract genealogist
PRESCOTT – Yavapai-Prescott Tribal Judge Albert Wood granted a preliminary injunction Friday that prevents a genealogist from speaking to anyone other than the tribal Board of Directors about her findings concerning the ancestry of a late tribal member.
The Yavapai-Prescott Tribe is suing the genealogist, Lorraine Escobar. They allege she breached the confidentiality clause of her contract by talking about the analysis of the late Robert Rice's blood quantum. The tribe is seeking more than $100,000 in damages from Escobar.
Escobar filed for an emergency continuance the day before the Friday hearing – citing a family emergency.
She participated in the hearing telephonically and added that she did not have legal counsel available to help her with the matter. She told the court that Afton Izen, the Rices' attorney, has offered her indirect help concerning the lawsuit.
The tribe's attorney, David Bodney, pushed for the hearing to continue, despite Escobar's request, saying that they needed to handle the matter in a timely manner. Wood agreed and proceeded with the hearing.
The tribal lawsuit cites part of the tribe's contract with Escobar that states she can't disclose information about her report that she didn't know before or that wasn't already in the public domain, unless the tribe gives her written permission.
Esocbar denies the allegations, saying she did not reveal the results of her analysis to anyone.
In December, Escobar told Daily Courier reporter Joanna Dodder that "there was a ton of evidence" to support that Robert Rice was full-blooded Yavapai and not half Yavapai and half Apache as the tribal board asserted.
The tribal board and 48 Rice family members are embroiled in a federal lawsuit over the issue. The Rice family lawsuit in federal court alleges that in 1972, the late Yavapai-Prescott president Pat McGee illegally changed the blood quantum of Robert Rice on the 1960 Indian Census Roll from full-blooded Yavapai to half Yavapai and half Apache.
The lawsuit alleges that various boards of directors for the past few decades have refused to consider evidence that Robert Rice was a full-blooded Yavapai. It also claims that other defendants, including tribal employees and elders, have conspired with the current board to rob the Rice family of its rightful heritage.
Because of the allegedly altered blood quantum, the tribe doesn't officially consider some great-grandchildren of Robert Rice to be at least one-fourth Yavapai. Therefore, it doesn't officially consider them tribal members and denies them health and education benefits as well as casino revenues.
The tribal board hired Escobar, a certified American Indian lineage specialist, to research Robert Rice's genealogy last year.
The tribal lawsuit against Escobar alleges that a Rice family member somehow obtained a copy of Escobar's report and gave it to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribe has not released Escobar's report or its conclusion. Dodder contacted Escobar after reading a letter from Assistant Secretary of the U.S Department of the Interior Neal McCaleb that referenced her findings.
In the letter, McCaleb cited Escobar's research when he sided with the Rice family on the blood quantum issue in December. He noted that Escobar's "detailed" report filled two volumes, and that seven separate BIA Census lists from 1919 to 1930 show Robert Rice as full-blooded Yavapai.
"The Board of Directors entered into a contract solely on the basis that she (Escobar) would not discuss that information or that report with anybody other than the board," Bodney said.
He added that the board is not seeking relief "because it is afraid of anything in those materials" but because she violated the contract.
At the Friday hearing, Escobar said she did not breach the confidentiality clause of her tribal contract and alleged the reporter "put words in her mouth."
"To say that there is a ton of evidence … doesn't reveal any of my conclusions," Escobar said. "I have not talked to anyone about my findings or my conclusions."
Bodney countered her comment by saying that if she has not breached the contract then she should not oppose the injunction that would prevent her from doing something that she already agreed not to do.
"It's not her (job) to determine how much of this (report) is confidential," Bodney said.
Escobar also filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Bodney called the motion "frivolous." He said he would file a response to the motion by March 18 and Escobar agreed to file a reply by April 1. Wood scheduled a hearing on the matter for 9 a.m. on April 11.
Courier reporter Joanna Dodder contributed to this article.
Contact C. Murphy Hébert at email@example.com.