was exhilarating, and frankly, a lot of the
environmental work that I did back then has
stood me in good stead. I’m back doing a lot
of that now with my tribal clients.
Q: You joined the Rothstein firm in 1988.
What brought you there?
A: I left the reservation in 1978 and went to
Albuquerque and started up a firm with a
friend who had been working for an Indian
organization. We built what became a very
successful and well-regarded practice, and
that went on for about 10 years. And then
in 1988, that firm sort of unraveled. I had
become involved with a woman in Santa Fe,
and then found that the Rothstein firm just
had a partner depart, and they were looking
for someone to take his place. Nobody in
the Rothstein firm knew the first thing about
So I joined the firm in the fall of ‘88.
Eight months later, we landed the contract
with the Navajo Nation to become
special prosecutors to take on this huge,
complicated series of cases involving Peter
MacDonald, who was then the chairman of
the Navajo Tribal Council.
Q: What are your memories of that case?
A: It’s a long, complicated story. When I
joined DNA in the fall of 1970, the program
was actually in serious straits because it was
being attacked bitterly by Raymond Nakai,
who was then the chairman of the tribe.
When the program got set up, although
everybody thought that we’d be suing car
dealers and loan sharks in the border towns,
there were often occasions when the tribe
itself was the bad guy. So the program
found itself representing people against the
tribe, and that just really didn’t sit well with
Anyway, MacDonald came along and
decided to run against Nakai. He was
seen as a backer of the program, so Legal
Services, in September, announced that
they would give us three months of funding,
obviously wanting to see who won the
election. And fortunately, MacDonald won
the election, and the corporation renewed
our funding for a year.
But then, as MacDonald became
more prominent and got involved in a
lot more of what turned out to be really
highly questionable dealings, even in
his early terms, we began to take on
cases that challenged decisions he was
making, programs he was supporting—a
major coal transaction that he and his
lawyers negotiated that would have been
devastating to a whole community on the
reservation that we represented. We fought
In the spring of ‘89, it hit the papers that
MacDonald had actually been one of three
individuals who did this flip transaction
with the tribe by which they had purchased
this huge ranch that was not even close to
the Navajo Reservation. It’s out adjacent
to the Hualapai Reservation on the south
side of the Grand Canyon. It’s called the
Big Boquillas Ranch. They had purchased
it for [around] $26 million and then sold it
to the tribe for $33 million.
Hearings were held in Congress on this,
and then it turned out that there were all
kinds of other shenanigans going on in
connection with MacDonald. So the tribal
council was in an uproar; they put him on