Women’s Shelter off Limits while Case is Heard
May 7, 2011
SHIPROCK — The Shiprock women’s shelter remains off limits while the legal wrangling continues over who should make the final touches to the facility.
A tribal judge is considering if the Navajo Nation’s two sworn affidavits are enough evidence to hold a contractor and the director of the Shiprock Home for Women and Children in contempt of court.
Robert Nelson, CEO of RJN Construction, of Mancos, Colo., and Gloria Champion, shelter director, are facing contempt of court charges for violating a court order by allegedly interfering with work at the shelter.
Shiprock District Court Judge Genevieve Woody heard the case Friday. Neither the Nation nor the defense called a witness.
The Nation alleges Champion and Nelson are in contempt of court, which could carry a ruling of dismissal, a fine or a stern warning, because they visited the shelter March 10 and interfered with work being done by Brown and Associates.
Brown and Associates is a company contracted by the Nation that was on site to record the status of construction at the facility and inventory equipment in the construction zone.
Much of the equipment belonged to Nelson and Arnold Smith, a subcontractor hired to do plumbing work at the facility.
Nelson and Champion “didn’t go there to engage in a spelling bee,” Brian Lewis, an attorney for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, said in court. “Why would someone go other than to interfere with work?”
The Nation’s evidence consists
of two sworn affidavits from Michael Brown, the owner of Brown and Associates, and Vernon Clashin, the director of the Navajo Nation Department of Engineering Services.
Brown’s affidavit said Champion and Nelson arrived on site and temporarily stopped him from doing his work. Clashin’s affidavit said he spoke to Champion by cell phone while she was at the facility March 10.
James Zion, an Albuquerque-based defense attorney who represents Champion and Nelson, said his clients did not interfere with work because Brown’s affidavit also says his company finished work at the facility at 12:30 p.m.
“How can you interfere with the completion of the work if it says in his sworn affidavit that he completed his work for the day?” Zion said.
Lewis said the court ordered Nelson and Champion not to go to the facility, so the degree to which they interfered with the work is irrelevant.
“We know they were there,” he said. “They didn’t have to get into a basketball defense and surround the workers.”
Woody can either rule on the case based on the evidence provided or ask for additional hearings, Lewis said.
Nelson said he has worked as a contractor on the Navajo Nation for more than 15 years, building more than 150 homes and several facilities, including a veterans facility near Smith Lake. He is midway through three projects on the reservation: the shelter and a veterans facility and senior citizens’ center in Burnham. He has been court-ordered to stop all those construction projects, he said.
About $1.2 million in Joint Power Agreement funding for the $6 million domestic violence shelter may revert back to the state if the shelter is not completed by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
“Why aren’t hammers flying up there?” Zion said. “It’s certainly not Gloria (Champion’s) fault or Bob (Nelson’s) fault that hammers aren’t flying up there.”
Brown and Associates reported to the Nation that the project is about 60 percent completed. Nelson said he is 80-percent finished and could have the project done in 120 days.
The Nation has a contractor ready to finish the project and is waiting for a contract to be signed to release the name of the business, Lewis wrote in a statement to The Daily Times.
Meanwhile, an appeal is waiting to be heard by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court to lift an injunction stopping Nelson from completing construction at the shelter, Zion said.
“Once the contractor begins working, the Nation seeks to finish the project as soon as possible,” Lewis said. “This shelter’s delays are unacceptable, and the Nation has made its completion a priority.”