takes fight to court
Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - Debbie St. Pierre, owner of Village Grocery, tried and failed to get her store's cigarettes back from tribal police Friday.
St. Pierre's store was raided two weeks ago and her cigarettes confiscated. A search warrant said tribal police believe St. Pierre was selling cigarettes that did not have a Montana tax stamp.
State officials have said that cigarettes sold on the reservation must have a Montana tax stamp.
St. Pierre also has refused to pay a 55-cent tribal tobacco tax, arguing that the 50-cent increase approved by the tribal council in January was not legally adopted.
St. Pierre filed an injunction in tribal court against the search warrant immediately afterward.
Tribal attorney Daniel Belcourt represented the tribe Friday and argued that the motion St. Pierre and her representatives were making should be made in a criminal court during a suppression hearing, something he said will only be necessary if the tribe files a criminal charge.
Chief Judge Duane Gopher agreed that the civil court could not grant any relief in a criminal matter and dismissed the motion.
"I don't think the defendants are going to be out their day in court," Belcourt said, explaining that the issues would come again when and if there is a criminal case.
"Debbie's livelihood cannot wait until that day," said Wanda Parker, St. Pierre's advocate.
Parker said St. Pierre is on the verge of bankruptcy and will soon have to lay off workers and even close her store because of lost proceeds. St. Pierre said in an interview last week that cigarette sales make up more than one quarter of her total sales.
St. Pierre was asking the court for her cigarettes back so that she can keep selling them because she has not yet been found guilty of any crime.
"It could potentially validate potentially criminal activity," Belcourt said of that request.
Parker also argued that St. Pierre was not paying the tribal tax because she thought it was passed illegally, without public hearings or a referendum vote. The original 1972 tax was not approved by the Department of Interior, she said.
Gopher said that requirement only applies to the tribe's law and order code.
Parker said the tax law was in the law and order code.
"We can adopt any law we want," Gopher said.
The question of whether the tax was legal does not apply to the motion asking for an injunction, Gopher ruled.