Aquinnah selectmen seek possible appeal of tribe ruling

Town attorney to consult with state and taxpayer group on strategy.

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Town administrator Adam Wilson meets with selectmen Juli Vanderhoop and Gary Haley before Thursday's executive session. The board voted to research all aspects of appeal. —George Brennan

Aquinnah selectmen voted Thursday to pursue possible appeals of a federal court ruling that paves the way for a gambling facility operated by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).

At a hastily called meeting at Aquinnah Town Hall, selectmen Juli Vanderhoop and Gary Haley met for 30 minutes behind closed doors with the town’s attorney Ronald Rappaport. A third board member, Jim Newman, was away and unable to attend Thursday’s meeting.

Vanderhoop and Haley emerged making no comment, but town administrator Adam Wilson announced the two members had voted during the executive session.

“There was a motion to move forward and research every aspect of appeal,” Wilson said. The vote gives Rappaport the authority to consult with other parties to the suit, including Attorney General Maura Healey’s office and attorneys for the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association.

The board was reacting to Monday’s ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals that found a U.S. District Court had erred in ruling that the tribe failed to demonstrate governmental control over its lands, and thus was ineligible for rights under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

In 2013, then-Gov. Deval Patrick filed suit against the tribe in state court to block its plans for a gambling hall, offering so-called bingo slots, in a community center on tribal lands. The suit claimed the proposal breached the tribe’s settlement agreement with the town and state in 1987.

The tribe successfully moved the case to federal court where it asserted that it never waived its rights to offer gambling on reservation land and that IGRA, approved in 1988, superseded the settlement agreement.

The three-member appeals court agreed with the tribe.

Without talking about a specific appeal, Rappaport said there are several options open to the tribe.

Those include asking for an en banc hearing, which is a rehearing of the case. The town and other parties have 14 days to file motions for a rehearing, which is why the Aquinnah selectmen have scheduled another meeting for April 20. Newman may participate in that meeting electronically, Wilson said.

Rappaport has had informal discussions with the other attorneys involved, but Thursday’s vote gives him the authority to move forward with those talks.

The town would likely want the clout of the AG’s office involved in any motion filed with the court.

An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is also an option, though legal experts have already pointed out the difficulty in getting the nation’s highest court to hear cases. The court is not obligated to hear every case presented for possible appeal.