The latest skirmish in a long-running legal feud over an East County tribal casino project ended Tuesday in favor of tribal leaders.
But the hostilities don't figure to subside any time soon.
Before Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager was a lawsuit filed against CalTrans, which controls the encroachment permit under which the tribe’s contractors are working, by two relatives of several deceased Jamul tribal members.
The litigation claims desecration of Native American burial grounds now under excavation for the parking structure that would serve Hollywood Casino Jamul, a $360 million undertaking between the Jamul tribe and Penn National -- its financial partner which is active in the casino gaming industry.
"These most recent lies and accusations are nothing more than a desperate attempt to stop us from moving forward with our project,” tribal chairman Raymond Hunter told journalists invited to tour the reservation Tuesday morning. “Those tactics have not been successful in the past, and they will not succeed now."
Added tribal councilmember Richard Tellow: "All burials have been performed in the cemetery, which remains wholly intact and undisturbed."
That cemetery is at the opposite end of the reservation from the casino site, where five relatives of Karen Toggery – Hunter’s sister – and Walter Rosales once lived.
On that property, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the two, funeral artifacts were left many years ago – only to be dug up in February and hauled with tons of dirt for use in a CalTrans freeway project interchange among State Routes 11, 125 and 905 near the border
Toggery and Rosales went to court seeking an order that would allow the Native American Foundation Commission to sift the dirt and recover artifacts, and set up a mediation process to properly relocate them.
Their attorney, Patrick Webb, offered this argument to Judge Prager about the tribe’s legal position: "They all want to talk about what's the cemetery and what's not the cemetery. That's really irrelevant. The only evidence you have in front of you is eyewitness testimony from the people who put their families there. And where they are now? No one is contesting it."
But the judge declined the request, saying that the issues could be revisited at an unspecified future date.
"It hurts -- how would you like it if something like this happened to your family? It's not very nice,” Toggery said following the court hearing.
She added this about the tribal leadership led by her brother: “They're not thinking about what's going on with the traditions that we hold high and esteemed to our families, and our memories and our ancestral ties … their motto is, 'Well, they're gone, so that's it’.”
Casino-related lawsuits involving tribal factions, Jamul community activists and the county of San Diego have been ongoing since 1995.
Twenty have been dismissed.
Three others besides the case heard Tuesday are still pending in state and federal court.