By Arrin Brunson
Another conflict between the Navajo Sheep Project and Utah State University has been resolved as attorneys on both sides signed an agreement to end a lawsuit this week.
The litigation was originally initiated by Assistant Attorney General Robert Barclay on behalf of Utah State University in January when a complaint was filed against the Navajo Sheep Project on the grounds that the non-profit organization failed to file an annual report.
A summons of the complaint was mailed to an outdated address in February and was never received by trustees of the sheep project. Meanwhile, the Navajo Sheep Project completed the missing paperwork and was reinstated as a corporation before the end of March.
Still, Utah States case proceeded based on the sheep projects failure to receive and respond to the complaint and the court entered a default judgment requiring the Navajo Sheep Project to pay Utah State ,50,000.
On Nov. 14, Barclay and Stephen Christiansen, attorney for the Navajo Sheep Project, argued before Judge William B. Bohling of the Third Judicial District Court in Salt Lake City. Bohling ruled in favor of the sheep project and reversed the court order to pay the ,50,000.
Immediately following the judges announcement, the attorneys, along with several members of the Navajo Sheep Project met in a private conference for nearly two hours. The discussions resulted in an agreement that the attorney generals office on behalf of Utah State University would drop the lawsuit. The matter has been sent to Judge Bohling for his approval.
Dr. Lyle McNeal, director of the Navajo Sheep Project, said that he is pleased with the general outcome and will discuss the finer points of the agreement with the projects board of trustees this weekend at the semi-annual board meeting.
I would like to put this on the back burner and get on with the work of the project, McNeal said Wednesday. This has been a detour.
McNeal brought the once-endangered herd of Churro sheep to USU from Cal Poly State University in the mid-1970s. In 1996 the project separated from USU and in September 1998, members of the project board of trustees agreed to pay Utah State ,50,000 for the projects assets computer, car, sheep, etc.
When the projects paperwork lapsed, it appeared that the corporation had been dissolved and Utah State acted to secure assets to cover the ,50,000 debt, Barclay explained. The latest legal action is a motion to dismiss that action. The lump sum will be due at the end of the ten-year term as originally agreed upon by both parties.
The defendant (NSP) is continuing its charitable and educational purposes to encourage the development, security and strength of traditional and cultural values of families and their agricultural pursuits, the latest legal agreement states. The plaintiff fully supports those purposes, especially the benefits received by Navajos (the Din).
Plans are in place, McNeal said, to move the nearly 500-head herd of Churro to a Navajo reservation in Window Rock, Ariz. where the breed will continue to benefit the native Americans who use the sheeps lustrous coat for spinning and weaving. On the grounds of St. Michaels Catholic School and mission where they will be housed, the animals will be used for agriculture educational purposes.
We first took a small herd of sheep there in 1983, a small flock of five ewes and 4 rams, and that started a relationship that continues today, McNeal said. This is the most successful high school on the reservation in terms of graduation, college attendance and completion.
McNeal said that 92 percent of the Catholic schools students go to college and complete a degree. Ideally, he said, the Navajo Sheep Project could work with USU in a partnership to increase high school-college relations on the reservation and share extension services with the Navajos.
This relationship could prove to be sensitive, though, as McNeal is engaged in separate litigation against his employer, Utah State. McNeals lawsuit claims that the university has breached a contract which requires USU to reinstate his teaching status to year-round. McNeal is also requesting that USU pay legal fees from past litigation where a jury found that McNeal had been treated unfairly at Utah State. This legal matter was denied by the Third District Court and McNeal is awaiting an appeal which could send the matter to the Supreme Court.