Brewer camp slams Goddard's tribal remarks as 'unwise, overtly political'

Chris Rizo Jan. 20, 2010, 12:18am

Terry Goddard (D)

Jan Brewer (R)

PHOENIX, Ariz. (Legal Newsline)-Despite his calls for tribal attorneys general to be part of the national body of chief state legal officers, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard has yet to take any action to bring his Native American counterparts into the fold.

In a December 13 interview with Legal Newsline, Goddard said it only makes sense that tribal AGs become a formal part of the National Association of Attorneys General, the Washington-based group that, among other things, coordinates multistate litigation.

Goddard, a Democrat and probable gubernatorial candidate, spoke to Legal Newsline following NAAG's winter meeting in Phoenix, Ariz. About 40 chief legal officers from Indian tribes and pueblos took part in the group's closed-door meetings.

Goddard called the forum "groundbreaking," noting that Native American AGs had never before had such a formal presence at a NAAG convention.

"We broke new ground in state-tribal relations," Goddard said. "I hope they become a regular part of the NAAG organization," he said of the tribes.

Legal Newsline has asked Goddard's office three times since the meeting about any efforts he was planning to undertake to help make tribal attorneys general a formal part of NAAG. His office has yet to respond.

NAAG spokeswoman Marjorie Tharp said Tuesday that Goddard has not taken any formal action that would move to allow tribal AGs to be a formal part of the organization.

Critics say the attorney general's comments were perhaps politically motivated in a move to woo Native American voters, a large constituency in the Grand Canyon State, in his probable race against Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.

Brewer's campaign consultant, J. Charles Coughlin, told Legal Newsline that Goddard's comments seem political.

"In the past NAAG has permitted, on a limited basis, the participation of chief law enforcement officials of both Mexico and Canada. It would seem appropriate, given the sovereign status of tribal governments to maintain that type of participation in the future," Coughlin said. "Suggesting, as General Goddard has, that Tribal AG's should be part of the formal NAAG process seems to be unwise, overtly political and not the least bit surprising."

An indication that the idea of being seated at the NAAG table is not top among tribal AGs' priorities, two tribal legal officials told LNL that they had not given the prospect much thought.

Robert Hunter, attorney general for the Yavapai-Apache Nation, said the issue could be a complex one.

"At first blush it sounds like a good thing," Hunter said. "But how that plays out with tribal issues is something else altogether."

Jonathan Jantzen, attorney general for the Tohono O'odham Nation, attended the NAAG conference in December. He said he had not given Goddard's idea much consideration.

"I don't know what the advantages and disadvantages of joining would be," he said.

Over the years, calls to allow tribal AGs into NAAG have come and gone. The issue is especially complex because not all tribal attorneys general are elected -- some are hired counsel from private law firms, for example.

Additionally, if tribal AGs became a part of NAAG and were afforded equal billing with state AGs, it could require change in NAAG's constitution.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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