LEGAL SNAFU: Camp Verde jurisdiction issue has costly potential

CAMP VERDE - A long-existing jurisdictional error in Camp Verde Municipal Court has resulted in the dismissal of a well-publicized 2009 conviction and has the potential to become a costly matter for the town and its insurers.

A fight at the bowling alley in the Cliff Castle Casino in July 2009 led to the misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct convictions of two brothers, Jared and Joseph Wolfe, in the town court. Both were sentenced to probation and ordered to pay more than $18,000 between them in fines and restitution.

Based on the 1986 Board of Supervisors ruling incorporating the town and defining its boundaries, prosecutions of crimes by non-Native Americans on the Yavapai Apache Tribal Reservation have taken place in Camp Verde Municipal Court.

But in an October 2010 ruling, Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Kenton Jones overturned the Wolfe convictions, noting that "the ordinances of a city or town are only enforceable by a municipal court inside the city's boundaries," and that the "island of Indian Country upon which Cliff Castle Casino sits is outside the limits of the Town of Camp Verde."

Prescott attorney C. Kenneth Ray represented the Wolfe brothers, coming into the case after the two men represented themselves in the original trial.

Ray's appeal of the convictions, on jurisdictional and other grounds, prompted Jones's ruling, which in turn set off a sequence of events that is still in progress.

In April of this year, ruling that the statute of limitations had expired on the case, Verde Valley Justice Court Judge William Lundy, dismissed the cases against the Wolfe brothers, vacating the fines and restitution the two men were to pay, much of which had been meant to repay the insurance company that paid for the victim's medical bills in the original case.

At about the same time, the town ceased prosecuting reservation crimes in municipal court, moving all existing and future cases to county justice court, which has appropriate jurisdiction.

Also in April, Ray filed a Notice of Claim against the Town of Camp Verde, asking for damages of $6,850 for legal fees and lost wages for the brothers. That claim, which ended up in the state insurance risk pool, went unanswered and was thus deemed denied in June.

The claim notice also included Ray's written intent to begin identifying and organizing clients for a potential class-action lawsuit against the town.

That class would potentially include anyone ever convicted in town court in a case that should have gone to justice court.

The Notice of Claim suggests that, as part of the settlement of the issue, "any judgment(s) of guilt must be vacated" and claims of class members for fines, fees, surcharges or other monetary losses, as well as compensation for indirect losses such as jail time, loss of income and other consequential damages be refunded to those improperly charged and convicted.

The exact amount of the potential cost to the town will only be known if and when the class-action suit is filed, as hundreds of past cases may be involved.

According to a source in the Yavapai County Attorney's Office, the burden of taking over cases originating on the reservation has not been immense, involving in average no more than four or five cases per month.

Neither Ray nor Town Prosecutor Carrie Kelly replied to requests for comment on the case.

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