Trump Pushing Lawsuit Against Easterns Despite Recognition Status
Karen Florin Day Staff Writer, Courts
Publication: The Day
Parts of lawsuit removed to state Appellate Court
Donald Trump and Amalgamated Industries are moving "full speed ahead" with their lawsuits against the Eastern Pequots, even though the tribe's federal recognition and casino plans are stuck in a holding pattern.
The Eastern Pequots dropped Trump and Amalgamated in favor of Eastern Capital Development. The suits, brought in 2003, involve several parties and attorneys and have been moving forward slowly along with appeals of the tribe's federal recognition.
Parts of both lawsuits were removed to the state Appellate Court last week when the Eastern Pequots appealed Judge Susan Peck's May 2 decision allowing Trump and Amalgamated to go forward with their cases. Peck had denied the tribe's motions to dismiss most aspects of the cases, asserting in some instances that the tribe waived its sovereign immunity, and in others that it had no sovereignty to waive.
Eastern Pequot attorney Robert D. Tobin said the tribe is entitled to sovereign immunity so he took advantage of a facet of law that enabled him to immediately appeal Peck's decision to a higher court.
"Our Supreme Court has ruled that a decision on sovereign immunity is immediately appealable," Tobin said. " It's one of the very few types of decisions, other than a final decision, that you can take immediately up to the appellate court."
Attorneys for Trump and Amalgamated, the Windsor-based company that introduced a faction of the tribe to Trump in exchange for a portion of the tribe's future earnings, said they would be asking the Appellate Court to dismiss the case. In the meantime, they are engaged in the "discovery" phase of the lawsuits and have started to depose key figures.
"There's a lot going on now and it's hard to tell how this will turn out," Trump attorney Robert I. Reardon said. "I know Mr. Trump certainly intends to proceed at full speed."
Reardon and Amalgamated attorney Bart Halloran recently deposed William I. Koch, a Florida industrialist and a current tribal backer with Eastern Capital Development LLC. The two attorneys traveled to New York and Cape Cod to interview Koch following months of negotiations and scheduling complications. Koch's attorneys have asked the judge to dismiss the case against him because he has no "personal jurisdiction" in Connecticut and little contact with the tribe. The judge has sealed the results of the deposition at Koch's request and without objection from Reardon.
"Our goal is not to expose Mr. Koch or his family to any risk at all," Reardon said. "Our goal is to prove Mr. Koch has done business in the state. ... I thought the deposition substantiated fully that Mr. Koch has done business in the state of Connecticut with respect to the Eastern Pequot transaction. He wasn't a silent partner. He was a substantial investor and partner in this transaction."
The attorneys for Trump and Amalgamated Industries said their clients hope the tribe is ultimately recognized by the federal government, but that the cases could move forward regardless of the outcome. The Bureau of Indian Affairs recognized the tribe in 2002, but a Department of the Interior appeal board overturned the decision this spring and sent it back to BIA for reconsideration. The BIA decision, due Sept. 12, will determine whether the tribe is able to move forward with its casino plans.
"The Amalgamated lawsuit is in no way dependent on federal recognition, nor is it restricted simply to a casino," Halloran said. "It's a very broad agreement having to do with the future business of this tribe. It's my hope, frankly, and it's Amalgamated's hope, that they will be recognized. Having spent an awful lot of time on it we feel they (the tribe) have a valid claim (to federal recognition)."