Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, The (IL)


Page: B-3

May 26, 2001

government aid
land claims
laws and legislation
Native Americans
Miami (Native American tribe)

Bill would extend state aid to Miami case defendants

Author: KATE CLEMENTS; News-Gazette Capitol Bureau Chief

Article Text:

SPRINGFIELD Landowners defending their property against claims by the Miami Indians would continue to get state legal aid for another year, under a bill awaiting Gov. George Ryan's signature.

The $100,000 legal defense fund the governor authorized in February is set to expire June 30, whether or not all the money has been spent.

The bill the General Assembly sent to the governor this week authorizes another $100,000 in legal reimbursements for the budget year beginning July 1.

The Miami tribe filed suit in July against 15 landowners in 15 East Central Illinois counties. The tribe claims that it is the rightful owner of about 2.6 million acres under the 1805 federal Treaty of Grouseland.

"It is apparent that this suit will take longer to resolve than we had originally hoped," said state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville.

Only a few of the property owners named in the lawsuit have title insurance.

The rest have to pay for their defense out of their own pockets.

The defense fund allows the Illinois Attorney General to reimburse the landowners' attorney at a rate of up to $200 per hour the same rate at which special assistant attorneys general are paid.

The landowners have racked up about $60,000 in bills so far, said Attorney General spokesman Jerry Owens.

None of the unused money from the first $100,000 would carry over to the budget year beginning July 1, but a new $100,000 would be available if the governor signs the new bill into law.

U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert recently granted the tribe's request to switch legal teams, a move that further delays a ruling on the case.

Gilbert earlier allowed the state to intervene in order to ask to have the case dismissed, but he has not ruled on the dismissal motion, said state Rep. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.

"If that motion isn't successful, we must have the resources in place to help local landowners continue the fight," Righter said.

Local lawmakers have said it is important that the state help the landowners, because the case impacts more than just those 15 people named in the lawsuit.

If the tribe wins in court, all of the property in the claim area, including state-owned land such as the University of Illinois, would be in jeopardy.

Champaign County is also providing $10,000 to help pay for the landowners' defense.

Copyright (c) 2001 The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette
Record Number: 0EC5B188EC5CD94C



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