Aug 29, 2021
For the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, taking on larger foes is part of the heritage. With a history of consistent patterns of infringement, starting with Mexico and other tribes and then the United States, of the native homelands of southern New Mexico and Arizona and northern Mexico, these are people who don’t back down, according to Tribe Chair Lori Gooday Ware. Now, this tribe of 794 members is facing off against one of the nation’s largest law firms in a quest to recoup over $2.6 million dollars from alleged improper and overcharged legal fees. “It may not be a lot to some tribes but for our small tribe, it means a lot,” she said. On July 18, the tribe filed an amendment in the Court of Indian Offenses for the Southern Plains Region in Anadarko as part of its civil complaint against Dentons US LLP for improperly collecting $2,640,186.14 in fees, Gooday Ware said. The Fort Sill Apache originally hired Denton to assist with a lawsuit against the National Indian Gaming Commission regarding the legal status of the Tribe’s Reservation lands located at Akela Flats in New Mexico in hopes of being able to establish gaming opportunities there. Lawton is home to the tribe’s one casino. The efforts would prove unsuccessful. Brought to Oklahoma as prisoners of war before 1900, the tribe was eventually freed in 1916 and established their headquarters just north of Apache. They were taken prisoner in 1886 and first moved to Florida and then moved to Alabama. The tribe accuses the firm of charging excessive fees, violating its fee agreement, and a breach of Denton’s fiduciary duty to the tribe, said Derrick Robinson, consultant to the tribe. Valerie Devol, attorney from Devol & Associates and representing the tribe, and is an expert in tribal business and tax law. She said it began Nov. 20, 2018, following former Chairman Jeff Haozous’ resignation. The next day, Dentons was informed of the news but continued its representation of him in another matter, the court documents state. That same month, the tribe attorney emailed the firm a reminder of the $595,000 cap to the litigation and suspended future payments. Devol said the next month, Dentons denied a cap existed. The business relationship was terminated in January 2019.Gooday Ware said the tribe is seeking reimbursement for all costs that exceed the original contract for $595,000. That contract stipulated the amount was not to be exceeded. It was authorized by the tribe’s business committee during a May 2015 meeting, “Dentons took advantage of our small tribe and put its interest ahead of that of the tribe and its members,” she said. “Dentons failed to ensure that its services were reasonable, necessary, and within the limits of the fee amount agreed to by both parties.” Gooday Ware calls into question the nature of how charges were bill and paid. She puts onus of bad faith on the shoulders of the high-end law firm that grossed just under $2.9 billion in revenue in 2019. “Dentons, a wealthy law firm, was well aware of their fiduciary duty to the tribe and took advantage of certain tribal officials for their own gain; taking funds that would have gone to the tribal members who would be impacted later by the pandemic,” she said. The Constitution has reached out to Dentons but has not received a response at the time of publication. The chairwoman said this current conflict is “part and parcel of the tribe’s long-standing history of fighting for its members and its survival. “It’s kind of it just seems like it just keeps happening over and over to our tribe,” she said. “We have to stand and defend for ourselves.” Devol expects the court will take up this civil suit sometime in September or October.