The Day on 05 October 2003

State Doesn't Need a Tribal Law Center

by Jeff Benedict

State Doesn't Need a Tribal Law Center

A recent Associated Press story describes plans by Nell Jessup Newton, dean of the University of Connecticut's Law School, to establish an academic center focusing on tribal legal issues. The center would focus on, among other things, "land claims, federal recognition, and Indian gaming."

These three issues -- land claims, federal recognition and casino gambling -- have been the subject of substantial and costly litigation in Connecticut. Private land owners, private institutions and municipalities have been sued over land claims. The Attorney General's office has filed numerous actions to oppose federal recognition petitions pending in every corner of the state; and over 50 municipalities have filed a legal brief in support of his efforts. The Connecticut legislature passed and Gov. John Rowland signed into law landmark legislation designed to stop casino expansion. It is fair to say that our state has formed a unified and active front within the last year to oppose land claims, tribal recognition petitions that fail to meet the mandatory federal criteria, and casino expansion.

Against this backdrop, the dean of Connecticut's law school has been an outspoken critic of the state's legal and legislative efforts. On the eve of the General Assembly's vote on the Las Vegas Nights repeal, the dean publicly criticized the legislation in a page one story in the Hartford Courant. The dean has also staked out a public stance in support of groups seeking federal recognition, some of the same groups that the attorney general has opposed on behalf of the state. This is the dean's prerogative, of course. Likewise, we are not questioning the prerogative of the University of Connecticut to determine whether it is in the best interest of the institution to support the kind of program that the dean is suggesting.

But we have serious reservations about both the motive of such a program and its funding. Referring to tribal recognition, land claims and other legal questions raised by tribal sovereignty, the dean is quoted as saying that "there is no resource where anyone -- citizens, legislators, reporters -- can get this information." This is not so. Citizens and legislators from Connecticut who want information on such topics have a ready resource in the Connecticut Attorney General's office. Moreover, our office frequently refers citizens to a wealth of publicly available documents. Finally, the state's two tribes possess well funded and well staffed legal departments and public relations departments, both of which disseminate information about these matters.

Perhaps there are other motives for opening a tribal legal center on Connecticut's campus. Either way, it is quite clear that the University of Connecticut cannot begin taking funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as has been proposed by the dean. This would present an obvious conflict of interest.

Nor is any other form of taxpayer-subsidized funding appropriate for this program. Taxpayers in this state have already underwritten legal fees and other costs arising from 10 years of litigation stemming from disputes involving tribal recognition, land annexation, land claims and casino expansion. To seek public funding at this point would simply be untenable.

Jeff Benedict is the bestselling author of sixteen non-fiction books, as well as a television and film producer. His latest book, The Dynasty, is the definitive inside story of the New England Patriots under Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, each of whom cooperated for the book. Published in 2020, it was an instant New York Times bestseller. The book is being developed into a 10-part documentary series, which Jeff is executive producing. In 2018, Jeff co-wrote the #1 bestseller Tiger Woods and he was an executive producer on the HBO documentary “Tiger” that was based on the book and aired in 2021. The book is currently being developed into a scripted series, which Jeff is executive producing. Jeff is also the executive producer on a documentary based on his book Poisoned that will air on Netflix. In 2017, he co-produced “Little Pink House,” a feature film starring Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn that was based on Jeff’s book of the same title. And in 2016, Jeff co-wrote with Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young his bestselling autobiography QB, which was the basis of an NFL Films documentary. Jeff has been a special-features writer for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, and the Hartford Courant, and his essays have appeared in the New York Times. His stories have been the basis of segments on 60 Minutes, CBS Sunday Morning, HBO Real Sports, Discovery Channel, Good Morning America, 20/20, 48 Hours, NFL Network, and NPR.

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