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Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe: Panel of judges affirms ruling on special election

A panel of judges Thursday supported the July 15 ruling of Leech Lake Reservation Election Judge Heidi Drobnick to invalidate the June 28 special secretary-treasurer election.

As a result, the Leech Lake Tribal Council will have to call a special election to fill the position.

Donald "Mick" Finn won the election by six votes over Donald "Donnie" Headbird, who contested the results, citing irregularities.

The panel of judges for the appeal of Drobnick's decision ruled that Finn had engaged in electioneering in violation of the election ordinance. More than six voters came forward by affidavit or through testimony to assert that Finn either paid them cash or had a supporter give them gas vouchers "expressly conditioned upon them voting for Candidate Finn." The judge deemed the information constituted election irregularities sufficient to change the outcome of the June 28 election.

Bemidji attorney Michael Garbow, who represented Finn in the appeal said the decision sets a disturbing precedent. Finn wasn't given an opportunity to defend himself, Garbow said.

"It's not about Mick - it's about the process," Garbow said. "For future close elections, all somebody has to do is allege somebody paid them to vote a certain way, put it in writing and have it notarized."

However, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Chairman Arthur "Archie" LaRose said in a press release, "This is a great day for our band and opens the way further to help us drive out the corruption and unethical behaviors that have infested our systems for so long. I think this sends a very strong message to our people that we will support all efforts to have open and honest government. I applaud the efforts of all those involved in the election process who came forward and stood their ground. It is a very hard and brave thing that people did coming forward. It took tremendous courage to stand up against what they knew was wrong."