Gaming commissioners fined for violating Nation’s Code of Ethics

By Tim Wohlers

The Ho-Chunk Legislature enforced penalties against members of the gaming commission last month, following an investigation into whether the appointed officials had committed ethics violations. 
In the end, all of the commissioners received a $500 fine. 
The penalty proved less severe than that recommended by the Ethics Review Board (ERB), which had called for removal of the gaming commissioners. 
“The Respondents demonstrated that they are unfit to serve the Ho-Chunk Nation as public officials,” the board stated.  “We therefore recommend that the Legislature (remove) each of the Respondents from their positions on the Gaming Commission.” 
The Executive-branch agency found that the commissioners had violated the Nation’s Code of Ethics when they arbitrarily revoked the gaming licenses of two long-time casino employees. 
Among other things, the board cited a lack of due process. 
“The Respondents failed to adhere to basic due process requirements,” the review board wrote, “a fundamental right under Ho-Chunk Nation law.” 
The agency’s investigation revealed that the commissioners not only denied the two employees due process, but that they never provided a reason for revoking their gaming licenses in the first place.  Consequently, the board recommended their removal.     
“The Respondents’ blatant disregard for the laws of the Nation,” the board stated, “convince us that (the gaming commissioners) are not fit to serve as Public Officials.” 
The commissioners tried their best to get the decision reversed in court. 
However, the trial court found no reason to do so and ultimately affirmed the board’s decision.  The judge explained that the agency had jurisdiction, and had followed all the proper procedures. 
“The ERB was intended to have the authority to address those issues,” Judge Mary Jo Hunter stated.  “The ERB assessed a monetary fine to each of the petitioners, as well as recommended their removal from the Gaming Commission.  The Court affirms the ERB’s Final Decision.” 
The five commissioners appealed the decision once again, but before the Nation’s Supreme Court.  Their attorney argued that both the ERB and the trial court had gotten it wrong. 
“The trial court erred,” said Attorney Erik Shircel. 
The Supreme Court disagreed, and affirmed the trial court order.  As a result, the ERB’s decision would stick.  The chairperson promptly notified Vice President Doug Greengrass of the outcome. 
“The Board’s final decision was affirmed by the Trial Court and Supreme Court of the Nation,” stated the Chair of the ERB.  “The Legislature is obligated under the Code of Ethics to enforce the final decision of the Board.” 
Despite the decision of both courts, however, Legislature would not remove the officials. 
“The Legislature finds that the Ethics Review Board was not empowered to recommend removal of Gaming Commissioners under the Code of Ethics,” stated the resolutions enforcing the fines. 
Legislators pointed to the Ho-Chunk Constitution as reason for not removing the commissioners, explaining that the law only pertains to elected officials of the Nation – and not appointed officials such as gaming commissioners. 
The department’s chief communications officer would not respond to questions on the matter, nor provide any clarification on the legislature’s actions. 
The elected officials’ next meeting will be on Feb. 20.