Attorney Fees

Tribe says sovereign immunity protects it from paying $1M attorney fees in Baby Veronica case


The Cherokee Nation says in court papers filed last week that sovereign immunity protects it from efforts to collect more than $1 million in legal fees by lawyers for the adoptive parents of the child known as Baby Veronica.

The tribe says the fee request is “inappropriate, unreasonable and unconscionable,” the Tulsa World and the Indian Country Today Media Network report.

The tribe says that “not one single court” has held that attorney fees may be awarded against a tribe because it has intervened in a state proceeding under the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is designed to preserve Indian families. The tribe also argues that the lawyers for the prospective adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, had stated that they were working pro bono.

Sovereign immunity does not apply to Baby Veronica’s father, Cherokee Nation member Dusten Brown, who fought his baby’s adoption by the Capobiancos, the Tulsa World adds. Baby Veronica spent the first two years of her life with the Capobiancos, who said Brown renounced his parental rights in a text message before Baby Veronica’s birth, and the second two with Brown in Oklahoma. The tribe helped Brown win custody, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the Indian Child Welfare Act did not apply because Brown abandoned the child before birth and never had custody.

The dispute ended in September when the Oklahoma Supreme Court lifted a stay that had kept the child with Brown, and Brown agreed to transfer the child to the Capobiancos.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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