Oklahoma Governor Hires Law Firm in Tribal Gambling Battle

by Administrator
in Legal

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s governor announced Friday hiring out-of-state attorneys to represent the state in the ongoing gaming compact dispute with Native American tribes.

The contract, which went into effect Dec. 18, stipulates that Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office will pay Perkins Coie attorneys rates ranging from $430 to $750 an hour. The firm’s legal assistant will cost $390 an hour. Total professional fees will not exceed $300,000.

A copy of the legal contract was released Friday in response to an open records request filed Monday by CNHI Oklahoma.

Stitt said Perkins Coie would assist in defending against a lawsuit filed by the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations and will provide counsel regarding compact negotiations.

“With Perkins Coie, the state of Oklahoma is well positioned to work towards a compact that protects core public services and advances the future of our great state, its 4 million residents and gaming tribes,” Stitt said in a statement. “Perkins Coie will also respond to and address the Chickasaw, Cherokee and Choctaw nations’ federal lawsuit filed on New Year’s Eve. The legal experts at Perkins Coie have successfully represented other states in Indian law controversies.”

On its website, Perkins Coie bills itself as a “leading international firm” that employs more than 1,100 lawyers in the United States and Asia.

The announcement comes as the three Native American tribes sued Stitt in federal court, requesting a judicial declaration that the gaming compacts automatically renewed Jan. 1.

Stitt had remained at an impasse with 35 of the state’s tribes over whether the compacts automatically renew. The Republican governor contends they expired Jan. 1.

The compacts allow tribes to offer gaming in exchange for paying the state exclusivity fees ranging from 4% to 10%. Those fees have generated more than $1.5 billion over the past 15 years, gaming officials report.

Stitt has said he’s willing to renew for 15 more years, but he wants tribes to pay more for exclusivity rights. He also wants resolution language added to compacts to clearly specify what will happen the next time the compacts are up for renewal.

Tribal leaders have said they’re open to re-negotiating, but not until Stitt acknowledges the compacts automatically renew.

The lawsuit does not ask a judge to address the revenue-sharing aspect.

Tribal leaders said Stitt’s stance on the compacts has created uncertainty and has been viewed as a threat to employees and business partners.

The hire marks the second by the state since the impasse with tribal governments began last year.

In September, The Associated Press reported that Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter had agreed to pay Michigan law firm Dykema Gossett as much as $250,000 for their compact negotiation expertise.

The firm's work with the state is complete, said Alex Gerszewski, a Hunter spokesman, on Friday. The firm charged about $238,500, he said. 

Hunter abruptly resigned as the state’s lead negotiator on Dec. 16.

"The governor is the lead on the compact negotiation," Gerszewski said. "Gov. Stitt wanted a single voice for the negotiations moving forward. Following the governor’s decision to take the lead, decisions on gaming compacts are his and that of his administration."