Tribal court disputed in Grand Canyon bridge fight


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The jurisdiction of a Native
American tribal court was challenged Friday by the developer of a
popular glass bridge over the Grand Canyon who has been locked in a
multi-million dollar contract dispute with an Arizona-based tribe.
Jin’s lawyer, Troy Eid, told a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals that the Las Vegas businessman should not have
to fight his legal battles in the Hualapai (WAHL’-uh-peye) tribal court
system, saying it lacks authority to hear the case.
Eid also said the tribal court is not giving his client a fair shot to protect his
financial stake.
Gross, an attorney for the tribe, denied the allegations and told the
panel that Jin signed a contract allowing the operation of the Skywalk
to be governed by Hualapai law. Gross argued that Jin first must exhaust
his legal options in tribal court before turning to federal courts.
fight between Jin and the tribe could be worth tens of millions of
dollars and stems from a disagreement over management fees and an
incomplete visitor center.
The dispute prompted Hualapai leaders
to sever Jin’s contract. They say he is owed $11 million for fair market
value of the Skywalk. Jin, however, says his rights are worth closer to
$100 million. He has alleged in lawsuits that his constitutional rights
are being violated.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk extends in a
horseshoe shape from the canyon’s edge on tribal land in western
Arizona, giving visitors a view of the Colorado River 4,000 feet below.
Jin invested $30 million to build it.
It’s unclear when the panel will rule in the dispute over jurisdiction.
judges said they understood the claims and are aware of the financial
stakes. They also said they realize both parties are anxious for a
The judges also asked Gross half-heartedly if they would see the parties back again
for another possible round of appeals.
not," Gross said. "Because we don’t know what’s going to happen in
tribal court and that’s the whole point of exhausting the administrative
remedies in tribal court because that process may prevent us from
coming back."
There is an exception to exhausting tribal court
remedies if Jin’s attorneys can prove that the tribal court — not the
Tribal Council — has acted in bad faith. He’s been unsuccessful so far.
The federal district court repeatedly has said that the tribal court has the first
right to hear the case.
two sides don’t agree either on an arbiter’s decision to award Jin more
than $28 million in the contract dispute. The tribe pulled out of the
proceeding by the American Arbitration Association once it cut Jin out
of the contract.
Staff Writer Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Ariz., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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