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After 40 years of litigation, appeals court rules again in tribal boundary lawsuit

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SALT LAKE CITY — A federal appeals court expressed frustration at issuing 40 years worth of legal opinions on tribal boundary lawsuits, only to have the cases keep coming back.

“We’re beginning to think we have an inkling of Sisyphus’s fate,” the court wrote in an opinion issued Tuesday.

The three judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vented in its opinion involving a jurisdictional boundary dispute between the eastern Utah town of Myton and the Ute Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.

“Over the last forty years the questions haven’t changed — and neither have our answers. We just keep rolling the rock,” the court said.

The tribe has engaged in litigation against the state and local governments for decades now, alleging that tribal members are being prosecuted for crimes committed on reservations, when they should face federal charges. Previous court rulings had sided with the tribe. The 10th Circuit Court chastised the local governments for prolonging the litigation.

In its ruling Tuesday, the 10th Circuit Court sided with the tribe again, ordering a reversal of a lower court judge’s decision granting Myton’s dismissal of the lawsuit. The court also ordered that another judge begin hearing the cases instead of U.S. District Court Judge Bruce Jenkins.

In a previous ruling, another judge rejected claims that Jenkins should not handle the cases because he was “biased, senile and Mormon.” Still, the 10th Circuit Court said it was time another judge heard the case.

“But the fact remains that the district court, in Ute VI and again today, has twice failed to enforce this court’s mandate in Ute V and has given us little reason to hope that things might change on remand or that this long lingering dispute will soon find the finality it requires. Accordingly, while we see no sign of bias in this case, we conclude reassignment of this and all related disputes is required to ensure their just and timely resolution,” the court said.

Read the full ruling here: