Former MacDonald prosecutors replace Balaran

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 20, 2011

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The Special Division of the Window Rock District Court has decided to go with experience in replacing Alan Balaran as special prosecutor.

The division last week approved hiring Santa Fe law firm of Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom & Schoenburg as the new special prosecutor.

"The Rothstein law firm, led by attorneys Eric Dahlstrom and Richard Hughes, will continue the investigations into alleged misuse of discretionary funds by high ranking officials of the Navajo Nation," a press release from the attorney general's office stated.

The firm will also look into allegations of mismanagement of funds in the OnSat, BCDS and Tribal Ranch Program and other matters assigned by the special division, which is composed of three judges.

Balaran, according to the press release, has agreed to assist with the transition.

The law firm was instrumental in the late 1980s in the prosecution of then chairman Peter MacDonald Sr., his son Rocky and others in MacDonald's administration for a variety of crimes while in office.

Dahlstrom, who has been a member of the Navajo Nation Bar Association for at least 30 years, was deputy attorney general of the Navajo Nation from 1987 through 1991.

Hughes has also been a member of the Navajo bar for at least 30 years and was one of the lead prosecutors in the MacDonald case.

In the press release, the attorney general's office said it was "fully supportive" of the appointment. Both the current attorney general, Harrison Tsosie, and his predecessor, Louis Denetsosie, are named defendants in the civil suit filed by Balaran.

The attorney general's office stated that it "is fully committed to the resolution of these matters pursuant to Navajo laws, principals and cultural values."

Dahlstrom, interviewed by phone at his Phoenix office, said Wednesday that the firm is not making any statements at this time about how it plans to proceed in the investigation and the prosecution of those who have already been named in civil suits filed by Balaran.

The new prosecutors have, however, done something different than Balaran.

They have hired Scott Hanson, a public relations specialist in Phoenix. Hanson will be responsible for keeping the media and the public up to date on the investigation, Dahlstrom said.

There was no mention by anyone in the tribe as to how much the Santa Fe firm will be getting for their services, but it is expected to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Legislative branch officials claim that Balaran cost the tribe more than $1.1 million but Balaran said that number was way off and the tribe has not as yet given out any accounting of the actual costs.

Balaran served as special prosecutor for 18 months and left when his contract expired Sept. 30 and was not renewed.

In court papers, he said he had to spend his own money at times to continue the investigation and at one time he had to get the tribal courts to order the tribe to reimburse him for his expenses and services.

Reports of how much Dahlstrom's firm made during the investigation of MacDonald ranged from $1 million to $4 million, although at the time the tribe said the total cost of the investigation was under $1 million.

There was also no time table given as to how long the Santa Fe's firm will be needed but because of the number of defendants - more than 80 - in the civil suit and the fact that civil cases usually take longer to adjudicate than criminal ones, it could be years before a final resolution is done.

If both sides agree, closure could come much more quickly.

The MacDonald prosecutors are coming back in a situation quite different than the one they faced in 1990.

In the first place, there are many more defendants and the scope of the investigation involves a broad range of subjects including almost every facet of tribal finances.

Another major difference is that MacDonald's prosecutors had the support of most of the Navajo Nation Council and the president's office.

Both Navajo President Ben Shelly and Vice-President Rex Lee Jim have already settled the criminal charges filed against them by Balaran and were not named in the civil suit.

But while the president's office is not under suspicion, it is also not actively supporting the probe and Shelly has taken a position of staying out of the way as much as possible.

As for the Council, officials there have been vocal in saying that the investigation went way off track when it began targeting them instead of former President Joe Shirley Jr. They say it is draining the tribal treasury and hurting the Navajo Nation government's image to the outside world.

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