Tribe's water rights case rejected
But court admits challenge raises conflict issues in decades-long process

The Spokesman-Review (Associated Press)

BOISE, Idaho - 6/5/02-- The state Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the challenge of the Nez Perce Tribe to former Snake River Water Rights Adjudication Judge Barry Wood because Wood is no longer presiding over the case.

But the high court said there were considerable issues in the claims lodged by the Nez Perce over the water rights claims of Wood and members of his family.

"The issues that have been raised in this case concerning the interests of Judge Wood and his family have alerted judges to the concerns of the Nez Perce Tribe and other litigants," Justice Gerald Schroeder wrote for the court.

"Steps have been taken to make full disclosure of interests that might influence a decision," he wrote.

Two years ago, the tribe asked Wood to disqualify himself from considering its 1,886 claims for half the natural flow of springs and fountains on former reservation lands ceded in a 1863 treaty.

The claims were consolidated and delegated to Special Master Terrence A. Dolan, but the adjudication judge still has administrative responsibility.

The tribe contended that Wood and two family members had water rights claims in the adjudication that were in direct conflict with its claims.

But Wood refused to step aside, arguing that the claims in question had already been decreed or were uncontested.

The tribe appealed, but it became meaningless 17 months ago, when the Supreme Court removed Wood for unrelated reasons from the adjudication and assigned the case to Judge Roger Burdick.

The adjudication of 150,000 water rights claims in 38 of the 44 counties is nearing the end of its second decade and has already cost $56 million.

The high court replaced Wood after Wood's brother-in-law, Daniel Eismann, was elected to the Supreme Court.

Had Wood continued presiding over the adjudication, Eismann would have had to disqualify himself from every appeal, and the adjudication and water rights were among Eismann's primary election campaign issues.


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