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INDIAN TRIBE WINS RIGHT TO ADD, CONTROL LAND

NEW YORK — In an extraordinarily broad declaration of Indian land rights, a Northern District of New York judge has held that the Cayuga Nation can buy up property in its former Central New York homeland, declare it “Indian country” and operate a gambling hall immune from local building, zoning and tax laws.

U.S. District Judge David Hurd’s first-of-its-type ruling affords the Indian nation a chance to gain through real estate purchases that which it could not directly gain through litigation: control over land it once occupied.

In a decision three years ago, the Cayugas were awarded nearly $248 million in damages for the wrongful appropriation of their land in violation of an 1838 treaty. Senior U.S. Judge Neal McCurn, however, refused to order all non-Cayugas ejected from the land. This left the Cayugas with a lot of money — pending an appeal — but not the land they wanted most.

Now, the Cayugas are buying some of that property and arguing that their purchase transforms the land into Indian country that cannot be regulated by local authorities. Judge Hurd said in a decision released late last week that the Cayugas are right.

The municipalities involved are preparing an appeal to the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and the Cayugas are in the process of converting a former auto parts store into a hall for high-stakes bingo.

The Cayugas expect to take in $14,000 to $17,000 daily, tax free, at the gambling parlor. They intend to operate 50 electronic bingo machines. Their tribal relatives, the Seneca Cayugas of Oklahoma, have purchased land in nearby Seneca Falls and have similar plans.

New York Law Journal

2ND CIRCUIT UPHOLDS PRISONER VOTING BAN

NEW YORK — New York’s law prohibiting incarcerated felons and parolees from voting does not violate the federal Voting Rights Act, the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled.

The court rejected an inmate’s claim that racial disparity in sentencing results in violations of the act. Congress did not clearly state its intent to include disenfranchisement statutes when it moved to toughen the law in 1982, the court said.

The issue decided in Muntaqim v. Coombe, 01-7260, was identical to one that deadlocked a 10-judge en banc review by the circuit in 1996.

This time the court was responding to a challenge to the disenfranchisement statute, N.Y. State Election Law §5-106, brought by prisoner Jalil Abdul Muntaqim.

The application of the federal act “to felon disenfranchisement statutes such as that of New York would infringe upon the state’s well-established discretion to deprive felons of the right to vote,” the court said.

Muntaqim, a black man incarcerated at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility, claimed the law violated §2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. §1973, because “it results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”

Muntaqim argued that while the statute did not intentionally discriminate, it had the practical effect of diluting black and Hispanic voter rolls because the racial disparity in New York’s prisons is driven, in part, by discriminatory sentencing practices.

New York Law Journal

CONNECTICUT DOCTOR A $6 MILLION MAN

HARTFORD, Conn. — Greenwich, Conn., the town that became nationally known for trying to keep poor people off its beaches, may wish it kept rich people off its sledding hills.

Resident Nicholas Stroumbakis, a $500,000-a-year urologist with a specialty in oncology, won a $6.3 million verdict from a Stamford, Conn., jury on April 14 for injuries he sustained in a January 2000 sledding accident that smashed his lower right leg and produced spinal damage.

The doctor’s large income was a key factor in the high award, tried by plaintiffs lawyer Stewart Casper, of Stamford’s Casper & de Toledo against Paul Pollock, of Bridgeport, Conn.’s Bai, Pollock, Blueweiss & Mulcahey.

Casper did not use an economic expert, but employed detailed medical graphics prepared by FMR Impact Inc., of Denver. The doctor’s case was helped by testimony from town employees who, at times, appeared to be engaged in a half-baked cover-up attempt, said Casper. He put on much of his seven-day case through witnesses for the town. Greenwich’s defense took less than one day of trial.

The incident occurred on Jan. 22, 2000, as Stroumbakis took the last run of the day down the hill, with his 4-year-old son on his lap. Near the bottom, he noticed a dangerous-looking depression and stuck out his right leg to stop the sled. Instead the 37-year-old doctor was thrown by the impact. “His sled crashed into a pit. His 4-year-old son had a fractured elbow that healed up OK. We didn’t make him part of the lawsuit,” said Casper in an interview.

Casper is a firm believer in visual aids at trial, and in this case he had his forensic graphics company bring X-rays to life, with color illustrations of the stages of the leg repair.

Connecticut Law Tribune

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