Judge winnows Oneida case issues

April 25, 2002|By James C. McKinley Jr. | James C. McKinley Jr.,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ALBANY, N.Y. - A federal judge has streamlined the land-claims lawsuit brought by the Oneida Indians against New York state, throwing out several of the state's defenses and winnowing the remaining arguments to a few key points.

The recent 70-page decision by Judge Lawrence E. Kahn in the Northern District of New York provides a road map for the Pataki administration and three groups of Oneida as they prepare for trial.

The Oneidas charge the state and local governments illegally acquired a quarter-million acres from them nearly 200 years ago in a series of 30 treaties and other agreements from 1795 to 1846. The heart of the case is the tribe's contention that those treaties are not valid because Congress never approved them as required under a 1793 law.

The suit has been wending its way through the courts since 1970. In January, Gov. George E. Pataki tried to break the deadlock by announcing a tentative agreement with the New York branch of the Oneidas, the smallest of the three groups.

So far, however, the administration has not been able to reach a final accord with the New York tribe. A larger group in Wisconsin, meanwhile, has refused to go along with Pataki's solution. Instead they have filed separate lawsuits against dozens of homeowners in Madison and Oneida counties.

In federal court, New York state lawyers had thrown up a panoply of 20 defenses, many of them highly technical. Among other points, the state challenged the Oneidas' standing to bring the lawsuit and asserted that too much time had elapsed for their claims to be valid.

Kahn rejected most of these arguments.

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