CASS LAKE—Leech Lake's secretary/treasurer Arthur "Archie" LaRose will be allowed to run for reelection despite his criminal record, according to the decision of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe's Tribal Election Court of Appeals.
A panel of judges issued a decision and order Feb. 7, denying an appeal made by LaRose's opponent Donald Finn after LaRose was certified to run.
The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe's election ordinance requires that anyone running for office must be certified by their band's governing body. Finn, LaRose and nine other candidates for various tribal council positions were certified during a Jan. 30 meeting in Cass Lake.
But Finn, along with District I Representative Penny DeVault and District II Representative Steve White, objected to LaRose's certification because he was convicted of third-degree assault in 1992.
Though the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe's election ordinance states a tribal member is ineligible as a candidate "if he or she has ever been convicted of a felony of any kind," District III Representative LeRoy Staples Fairbanks III and LaRose himself voted to certify. Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr., broke the tie, certifying LaRose and his three opponents: Finn, Steven Howard and Arlen Wakefield.
Stay of imposition
In September 1991, LaRose was charged with first-degree burglary, two counts of third-degree assault, two counts of aiding and abetting third-degree assault, trespass, aiding and abetting kidnapping, second-degree criminal sexual conduct and aiding and abetting second-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Court records show that LaRose pleaded not guilty to all charges except the third-degree assault and trespass counts, to which he pleaded guilty. The rest of the charges were dismissed.
When he was sentenced in 1992, LaRose received a stay of imposition, meaning that once he successfully completed his probation the convictions would be deemed misdemeanors. He was discharged from probation and the felony assault charge was deemed a misdemeanor on Nov. 27, 1995.
The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe conducts background checks on all candidates. Documents provided to the Pioneer by Finn and White show that LaRose's background check came back clear and include a mention of the misdemeanor.
But Finn believes LaRose's conviction still makes him ineligible to hold office. While speaking with the Pioneer, Finn referenced a similar situation from 2014, when Guy Green III attempted to run for the position of District III Representative.
That year, the Tribal Election Court of Appeals decided that Green, who was granted a stay of imposition after he was convicted of second-degree assault, could not run, stating in an order that "a stay of imposition of sentence having later been deemed a misdemeanor does not change the fact that the defendant at one time stood convicted of a felony."
The tribe's election ordinance states that anyone who has filed a complete notice of candidacy can challenge the certification of another candidate, and that that challenge must be filed with the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe's executive director by the end of the second business day after the certification. Once the challenge is received, the Tribal Election Court of Appeals must convene within 24 hours and decide whether to uphold the certification.
When Finn decided to appeal LaRose's certification he, White and DeVault each put together a packet of documents they believed should be submitted to the court. DeVault's seven-page packet simply included emails about the background checks, but White's packet, which he submitted to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe's Executive Director Gary Frazer, was much more extensive.
• A cover letter
• A letter Finn had sent to the Leech Lake Tribal Council before the certification meeting
• Multiple screenshots from the Minnesota Tribal Court Public Access Remote View website, which allows anyone to search a person's criminal record
• A screenshot from the website checkpeople.com
• Two notices from State District Court to the Commissioner of Corrections regarding LaRose's charges
• The Guy Green Ruling
• Two copies of the candidate background checks
• A copy of Minnesota offense codes.
But, in a meeting with the Pioneer following the court's ruling, Finn and White said very little of that was actually passed along to the judges.
"(Frazer) did not send our documents over," Finn said. "He didn't send (DeVault's) over, he didn't
send (White's) over, and he didn't send mine. All he sent was my cover page. He withheld everything."
Finn provided the Pioneer with the documents he said were sent to the judges. The 28-page packet included:
• A memorandum explaining the challenge
• A letter signed by Fairbanks, Jackson and LaRose
• A three-page letter from Finn outlining his argument
• A copy of the background check
• A copy of the certification forms
• Minutes from the Jan. 30 certification meeting
• Minutes from Feb. 21 and 23, 2006 council meetings during which relevant resolutions were passed
• A copy of Resolution No. 2006-76, which reads, "the policy of the Leech Lake Tribal Council is that convictions bearing the declaration "This offense is deemed to be a misdemeanor" on criminal background check results shall be deemed to be misdemeanors by the Leech Lake Tribal Council in determining eligibility of candidates to run for tribal council."
• A copy of a Leech Lake Tribal Court ruling allowing former tribal chairman George Goggleye, Jr., to run for office despite an assault conviction that was deemed a misdemeanor.
Speaking with the Pioneer, Frazer said that he is confident he followed the election ordinance. Along with Finn's three-page letter, Frazer said he received supplemental materials, which he sent to the tribal council. He asked the council for all the materials they used when deciding to certify LaRose, then forwarded what they sent him to the group of judges.
"They (the council) chose not to send me that back," Frazer said. "It's not like (Finn's) stuff wasn't sent somewhere, I sent it to the tribal council saying, 'Is this what you used?'"
The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe's attorney Philip Brodeen said Frazer acted properly.
"We're limited by this 1.3(C)(6)...due to this reference of the band governing body and the record provided by them," Brodeen said, referring to a portion of the election ordinance.
According to Frazer, the tribe's "governing body" refers to the majority, and White was not part of that majority. He added that he was not able to submit anything from representatives acting as individuals, which he said was the case with White's packet.
In his memorandum, Frazer wrote that, "enclosed is a complete set of the documents that I received from the Band governing body." Finn objects to the wording.
"I asked him, I said 'Why didn't you send (DeVault's) and (White's) paperwork over there?' and he said, 'Because the governing body already sent theirs.'" Finn said. "You know what bothered me more than anything? To exclude two council, two elected council members, saying that they are not part of the governing body."
The LaRose-Jackson-Fairbanks letter expands on the decision. It states that "any consideration of documents outside the record of decision violated the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Election Ordinance."
The portion of the ordinance that deal with certification challenges reads: "Any challenge must state the reason(s) why the decision of the Band governing body did not comply with the requirements of the Constitution...the Executive Director or designee shall: (1) notify the Band governing body of the challenge and advise it that a complete record of all documents related to the challenge determination must be submitted to the Executive Director."
Finn plans to continue his campaign against LaRose, who has served on the tribal council in some capacity since 2002.
LaRose could not be reached for comment.
The tribe's primary election will take place April 3. The general election is set for June 12.