The Northern Arapaho Tribe shares the following:
Ethete, WY – Today, the Northern Arapaho Business Council, a body of duly-elected officials representing the Northern Arapaho Tribe, filed suit against the tribe’s former law firm of Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd and its managing partner, attorney Kelly Rudd. The four-count civil suit was filed in Wyoming’s 9th Judicial District Court.
Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd had represented the tribe since at least 1989. On June 3, 2019, the Council severed that relationship after the firm resisted repeated inquiries to account for its work or accounting of more than $1 million in tribal funds held by the firm, and refused to return tribal documents, materials, and property in the firm’s possession.
As part of today’s legal filing, the Council issued the following statement:
“We are disappointed, but it has become clear we have no choice but to file this lawsuit against our former law firm of Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd and its managing partner, Kelly Rudd. It has recently come to our attention that tribal payments to the firm have been substantial – invoices totaled more than $827,000 between May 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019, and this does not include two matters on a contingency arrangement. Hundreds of thousands more were paid directly to the firm by our former casino CEO with no notification to our Council, let alone approval. In spite of this, Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd have ignored all Council requests to account for its time records to document the work performed. The firm has also held more than $1 million in tribal funds in trust but has resisted repeated demands to provide a full accounting of their whereabouts, despite clear ethical obligations to do so. These funds are among reams of documents and other tribal materials that Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd refuses to return, in defiance of formal Tribal Resolutions.
“What is most disturbing is that the ethical duties of any lawyer require that the lawyer return a client’s documents upon termination of the relationship. There is a reason for this. Legal documents permit the client to protect its interest during any transition. Despite this bright-line rule, the firm of Baldwin, Crocker and Rudd has steadfastly refused to return the Tribe’s legal documents, hampering the Tribe’s ability to protect its legal rights. This is unacceptable but made all the worse because of the multimillions the firm has made off the Tribe over many years.
“Tribal members and residents of the Wind River Indian Reservation are owed an explanation for what this law firm has done with our people’s money and property. We are gravely concerned about financial appropriations that have occurred, especially in recent months as tribal government and the casino have undergone leadership changes. We look forward to a Court bringing transparency to this matter and accountability, at last, for Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd.”
Specifically, the suit notes the law firm invoiced the tribe – on average – nearly $70,000 per month over the last year. That only includes work that was billed. The tribe has recently learned that many payments to Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd were approved and directly paid by former Wind River Hotel & Casino CEO Jim Conrad, including a $170,000 payment in June 2019 alone. The Tribe now believes the payment was unlawful, and Mr. Conrad and the firm have provided no information to account for why this payment was made.
Additionally, the Council believes Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd has held more than $1 million in Tribal funds, which the firm held in trust. Under Wyoming law, the firm is required to inform the Tribe about the administration of that trust, including providing a full accounting of all funds ever held in trust. To date, Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd has refused to account for and return Tribal trust funds that remain in its possession.
In fact, the lawsuit alleges Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd remains in possession of “innumerable confidential and other tribal documents.” Despite repeated requests, including a Tribal Resolution issued on June 6, 2019, the firm has refused to return Tribal property.
Today’s lawsuit asks that the Court grant a temporary restraining order mandating the immediate return of all tribal documents, as well as an injunction requiring accounting and the return of all Tribal funds that remain in possession of Baldwin Crocker & Rudd.
Additionally, the suit requests the firm and Mr. Rudd to be held jointly and severally liable for violating the common law of conversion, their responsibilities as trustees under Wyoming law and the legal code of conduct as attorneys under the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct.
The Council asks for legal fees associated with the lawsuit, and that the Court award the tribe punitive damages for Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd’s willful violations of the law.