COLUMBUS - In a surprise move, the Oklahoma-based Eastern Shawnee tribe has dropped the state of Ohio and Franklin County as defendants in its federal lawsuit seeking to force negotiation over Indian casinos. "We don't want to have to deal with parties who are not in active consideration," said Mason Morisset, the tribe's Seattle attorney. He declined to go into further detail.
The maneuver suggests the tribe may be nearing settlement with one or more of the other defendants, which include Allen County, Lima, Wapakoneta, Fort Shawnee, and numerous other local governments and private property owners.
Lima City Council recently adopted a resolution authorizing talks with the tribe, which claims a local casino could generate 2,500 jobs and a $300 million investment.
The lawsuit claims outright ownership of 93,000 acres of ancestral lands in western Ohio formerly known as the Hog Creek Reservation in Allen County, the Wapaghkonetta Reservation in Auglaize County, and the Joseph Moore and Nancy Steward lands in Logan County.
It seeks hunting, fishing, and gathering rights for about 11,315 square miles in southern Ohio.
While declaring victory for the state, Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro said he believes no local government has the authority to settle these claims without the state, and the entire lawsuit should be dismissed. "No one should be fooled into thinking this is anything other than a tactical legal maneuver by the Eastern Shawnee to continue their efforts to bring casino gambling to Ohio," he said.
Ohio has no federally recognized tribal lands, a hurdle the tribe must clear if it hopes to found a casino in the state.
Mr. Morisset said he knows of nothing in Ohio that would prevent local governments and property owners from negotiating with the tribe.
Mr. Petro had filed a motion to have claims against the state dismissed, but the court had yet to rule. Instead, the tribe moved on its own to drop its claims against the state, Gov. Bob Taft, and other state officials in a notice filed with the court Tuesday.