The point of that was, though, that
I frequently called other lawyers in the
program whom I knew in Window Rock and
other offices. I can remember one of the first
calls I made, which was probably the first
day I was in the office. It had to do with a
client who was being sued in state court over
a debt. So I called a guy in Window Rock and
said, “Are there any special defenses to raise
And he said, “Oh, state court doesn’t have
jurisdiction over that case.”
I said, “They don’t? Why?”
He said, “Well, here.” So he gave me these
Supreme Court decisions to look at, and I
went ahead and filed a motion to dismiss,
and actually ended up arguing an appeal in
the state Supreme Court just a month after
I finally got admitted the next year, which I
lost 3-2, but I thought getting two votes was
a moral victory. Later in life, I came to the
realization that I really should have lost the
Q: But arguing at the state Supreme Court
in less than a year is pretty fast-track.
A: It was very fast-track. It was a little
Fortunately, about a month after I got to
Shiprock, another lawyer was hired who’d
actually spent a year with the Colorado Rural
Legal Services, and he sort of knew what he
Q: What sorts of issues did you deal with
on a day-to-day basis?
A: We dealt with everything. We ended
up doing a lot of jurisdictional litigation
involving Indian law issues. I did a lot of
environmental work. This was just when
the coal development in the Four Corners
area was getting underway, and there were
big coal mines planned and projected,
and uranium mines, and coal gasification
facilities and power plants. We had clients
who were being directly affected by all of it.
We had civil rights cases. We had a case
RICHARD W. HUGHES · PARTNER / ROTHSTEIN, DONATELLI, HUGHES, DAHLSTROM, SHOENBURG & BIENVENU · NATIVE AMERICAN LAW · SOUTHWEST SUPER LAWYERS: 2008–2013; TOP 25 NEW MEXICO: 2011
against the hospital in Farmington where
the board had made a policy decision rather
than treat Navajos, just to send them back
to the Shiprock Hospital. We sued over that
and won on appeal.
We had a lot of consumer cases, which
is pretty typical. And we did a certain
amount of criminal defense work, which was
ludicrous, since that was really something
I knew nothing about and had no business
being involved in. And also, we weren’t
supposed to be doing that as legal services
lawyers, but there just wasn’t any other
representation available for Navajos.
Q: It had to be challenging.
A: It was more challenging than I was aware
of at the time, to be quite honest. I loved it.
I was thinking I was going to stick around in
legal services for a year. I ended up spending
eight years on the reservation.
I don’t recommend that anyone start
out their legal career the way I did. But it