February 2, 2001
in Miami case to get help
signs defense fund bill into law Thursday
KATE CLEMENTS News-Gazette Capitol Bureau Chief
- East Central Illinois landowners defending their property in federal
court against claims by the Miami Indians now have up to $100,000
from the state to pay attorne y's fees.
by area lawmakers, Gov. George Ryan signed the defense fund bill
into law Thursday at the Capitol.
by a New York man who develops shopping malls and casinos, the Miami
tribe of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit in July against 15 landowners in
15 counties. The tribe claims that it is the rightful owner of about
2.6 million acres under an 1805 federal treaty.
the defendants is former Vermilion County Board Chairman Max Call
think it's going to be very helpful to the people who are involved," said
Gov. George Ryan. "All of a sudden they're going to end up with
a lot of legal expenses if we don't help them. This is a very unique
situation, frankly, with the Miami Indian tribe coming in trying
to take their farms away. I think that's our obligation to help them
defend their rights, and that's what we're going to do."
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.
case involving the 15 landowners is especially important because
if the tribe wins in court, all property in the claim area, including
the University of Illinois and Eastern Illinois University, would
be in jeopardy, lawmakers pointed out.
think it sends a message that the state of Illinois is behind the
landowners in this part of the state," said state Rep. Tom Berns, R-Urbana. "It's not' just the 15 landowners,
it's all of us in the Wabash watershed, and in fact it may be all
of us in all of the state of Illinois, which at one time was all
owned by the various Indian tribes."
new law allows the attorney general to spend up to $100,000 from
the office's contractual services budget to reimburse the landowners'
attorney, William Broom of Carbondale. It limits Broom's payments
to $200 an hour - the same rate special assistant attorneys general
are paid. The law expires July 1.
just thrilled, because this has been a long process of getting it
passed," said state Sen. Judy Myers, R-Danville, who sponsored
judge in the case has not yet ruled on whether the state can intervene
on behalf of the landowners without having to give up its immunity.
So, for now, the defense fund is the only help from the state that
the 15 people named in the lawsuit will get.
Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, warned that the defense fund would probably
not scare the Miami Indians into backing off their claims, since
other tribes have had success with similar lawsuits in other states.
don't think this bill will make this suit go away, and I think people
need to take this much more seriously than perhaps we did when we
first heard about it," Black said. "Hopefully this gives
the 15 landowners some resources to at least make sure the federal
judge understands all the complexities of this suit. That's what
we hope for."
Miami tribe's primary trial attorney, Thomas Osterholt,
said, "It's the opinion of the tribe that this money would be
better spent sitting down and reaching a fair settlement, which would
eliminate the lawsuit completely," he said. "The Miami
tribe has consistently said that it believes a settlement could be
reached, which would be mutually beneficial to all parties and relieve
landowners of the cloud on their title. This act of the governor
will only continue the litigation."
trial is set for June 2001.
Miami tribe plans to be ready to try the case, and will resist any
continuances sought by the state of Illinois or the landowners," Osterholt said.
tribe spokesman George Tiger was not available for comment.
(c) 2001 The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette