The resolution amending the hearing date was introduced at 4:53 p.m., minutes before the end of a meeting that began at 8:30 that morning. It was not part of the published agenda, and councilmembers did not indicate that they planned to vote on the matter at any point earlier in the day, when more tribal members were present.
Lambert was not present, either. He was in Nevada attending his son’s graduation from the University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Law. Nelson Lambert was the speaker at his graduation ceremony, where he became the first Native American in the U.S. to earn a Master of Laws degree in Gaming Law and Regulation. Councilmember Teresa McCoy, of Big Cove, pointed out Lambert’s absence as Council prepared to vote, resulting in a prolonged exchange with Chairman Dennis “Bill” Taylor, of Wolfetown.
“When’s the chief supposed to be back in town?” McCoy asked.
“I have no idea,” Taylor replied.
“Bill, are you so afraid of something that you can’t do this when he’s in his office?” McCoy said.
“We’ve done this the last two times, Teresa,” Taylor said.
The May 18 date was the third impeachment hearing date that Tribal Council had set. The previous two — April 20 and May 9 — never resulted in hearings due to a court-ordered halt on impeachment proceedings while Lambert’s request for a preliminary injunction was decided. The Cherokee Supreme Court filed an order at the end of the day May 10 denying the preliminary injunction and allowing impeachment efforts to move forward.
McCoy wasn’t satisfied with Taylor’s response.
“Do we know when he (Lambert) is coming back?” she asked. “I mean, really, are y’all in such a hurry that you can’t wait until he’s back and get some information? He’s out of town.”
“All we’re doing is setting a date, and we’ve done that twice,” Taylor replied.
“OK, you done it twice and you got backed up on it,” McCoy said. “And what is going to happen between now and Thursday? What’s the big rush? You can go ahead and set the hearing date, but I would suggest 10 days, 30 days.”
“Well, it’s almost 60 days since we first filed our first resolution. So …” said Taylor.
“So I think what I would do is I would find out when he’s coming back and then let’s just take it from there,” McCoy insisted. “Because I’m gonna tell y’uns something. Do what you want to do, but I just think if you’re going to do this you ought to man up and have the man at the podium.”
“We’re not having any discussion on findings,” Taylor said. “We’re not having the hearing today or anything. We’re just setting a date. That’s it.”
By its vote, Tribal Council sided with Taylor. The body voted 9-2 to set the hearing for May 18, with McCoy and Councilmember Tommye Saunooke, of Painttown, the sole opposing votes. Councilmember Richard French, of Big Cove, was absent. French has been consistently against impeachment.
However, Lambert later had his attorney get in touch with Tribal Council’s attorney to ask for an extension, as he would have just barely made it back to town before May 18. The hearing is now set for 10 a.m. Monday, May 22, at the council house.
The impeachment hearing will involve arguments and testimony from both sides, with Asheville-based attorney Scott Jones representing Lambert and attorneys Chris Siewers and Rob Saunooke representing Tribal Council. When the hearing concludes, Tribal Council will vote on whether to remove Lambert. In a March 6 statement, Taylor said that “the outcome will be known at the end of the proceedings” and that the hearings are expected to conclude in one day.
Lambert has said publicly that he expects Council to vote to remove him, regardless of the facts presented. He sees the impeachment as retaliation for his efforts to expose wrongdoing in tribal government. Those efforts included completion of forensic audits that he later turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice, resulting in at least one active FBI investigation.
Rob Saunooke, however, said the outcome has most definitely not been pre-judged.
“I have no prediction what will happen. No idea,” he said. “It’s not a foregone conclusion. That’s why one of the most offensive suggestions is that the Tribal Council has already made up its mind. That sells them short as leaders.”