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Blackbear 07-05-2005 08:42 PM

Oneidas ask federal judge to block Madison County from taking land for back
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Nation, County Argue Cases

Oneidas ask federal judge to block Madison County from taking land for back

Thursday, June 30, 2005

By Glenn Coin

Staff writer
The Oneida Indian Nation has no one but itself to blame if it loses
properties to foreclosure, a lawyer for Madison County said in federal court
The nation has asked a federal judge to stop the county from foreclosing on
98 parcels because of delinquent taxes. But all the nation has to do is pay up
to eliminate the threat of foreclosure, said lawyer Robert Witmer.
"The tribe itself, by refusing to pay taxes, is now putting itself at risk,"
Witmer told District Court Judge David Hurd in Utica. "You can refuse to obey
a law, but there are consequences. That's precisely what the tribe is doing
here: They are refusing to obey what the Supreme Court said is due and
Witmer said a March ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court says in "unmistakable
terms" that the nation must pay property taxes.
The lawyer for the nation, Michael Smith, argued that the Supreme Court
ruling and an appeals court ruling on Tuesday in
the Cayuga Indian land claim do not give the county a right to foreclose.
"Neither court said the state can take land away from the tribe," said Smith,
who also argued for the Oneidas in the Supreme Court case.
Smith asked for a temporary injunction stopping the county from continuing
the foreclosure proceedings in state court. Hurd did not issue a decision
Wednesday, and did not indicate when he would.
Madison County Attorney John Campanie said he expects a decision from Hurd
well before July 14, when the county and the Oneidas are scheduled to be in
state Supreme Court on the foreclosure proceedings.
The county says the Oneidas owe nearly $3 million in back taxes, penalties
and interest. The county "is in desperate need" of that money, Witmer said.
The county first started foreclosure proceedings in 1999, but the Oneidas
filed a federal lawsuit a year later to halt the foreclosures. The case was put
on hold until the outcome of a similar foreclosure action by the city of
Sherrill was decided.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the Sherrill case March 29, saying that the
nation did have to pay taxes to Sherrill. Using that decision, Madison County
officials resumed the foreclosures.
The Oneidas argue that the foreclosure effort is premature, saying there are
still outstanding issues. One of those, Smith argued Wednesday, is the
nation's application to place its 17,000 acres in Madison and Oneida counties in
trust with the federal government.
If Madison County seized some of that land and auctioned it off, the nation
would not be able to put that land in trust, Smith said.
"The county will ask the state court to take land away from the nation on
July 14," Smith said. "They will ask the state to forcibly remove the Indian
tribe from the land."
The Department of the Interior sent a letter to the nation earlier this
month, saying the land would not be taken into trust unless back taxes were paid.

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