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Law Firm of the Month, Rosette, LLP Attorneys At Law
Staying True to Word – Representing Tribal Interests
By Lynette Carrington
The area of Indian tribal law is one that very few law firms across the nation practice. The group of attorneys at Rosette, LLP represents Indian tribal governments and Indian-owned entities all across the United States in complex legal matters including government negotiations, financial transactions and representation of internal tribal government matters. Currently, they have locations in Chandler, Sacramento, Kalamazoo and just recently opened their fourth office in Washington, D.C.
Robert Rosette is the founder of Rosette and is also an enrolled member of the Chippewa- Cree Tribe from the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation in Montana. With an intense focus he has created and shaped a most unique firm that now serves Indian tribal governments with expertise and with an understanding of the delicate and complex matters that are often unique to Indian-related litigation.
Getting Interested in Tribal Law
While growing up, Rosette became interested in tribal law as he observed what was going on around him. “Watching my own tribal government, the decisions they would make and the impact that legal advisors would have on tribal council leaders made me believe that I would want to go to law school for the betterment of the entire Indian community,” Rosette stated.
“I was the first in my family and among my siblings to even go to college. It was a difficult goal to reach as far as trying to figure out how to make ends meet through college and law school. I had three kids when I was in law school. I would wash dishes; I would do just about everything you can imagine just to get through. We were obviously on welfare and food stamps and everything, but my initial goal was just to get through school and then work for the Chippewa-Cree Tribe,” explained Rosette.
Once out of law school at Arizona State University, he was out looking for a job with a few tribes, seeking out where he might be effective. “It just so happened that another member of our tribe named Harold Monteau was leaving Bill Clinton’s administration in late ‘96. He was the first Native American ever appointed by a president to be the chairman of a federal regulatory commission. He was the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission,” Rosette said. “He called me and said he was leaving the administration, but he was thinking about not necessarily joining a big law firm, but instead maybe doing something on his own. He couldn’t really guarantee a law firm of his own would work or if there would even be enough to pay me. He inquired if I would like to take a risk and move to D.C, and start this practice with him. My wife thought I was crazy, obviously, but I packed our kids up and we moved to D.C. to start a law firm with Monteau.”
The Founding of Rosette, LLP
While in D.C., Rosette really got a handle on the influence of the federal government, the legal system and the framework of laws and how they interplayed to directly impact Indian country and tribal government. “That introduction allowed me to work for tribes all over the country. One of those tribes was from California and they were negotiating a gaming compact with their governor. That became a lot of work. I found myself on planes to Sacramento just about every month. Harold and I decided in 1999 we would open an office in Sacramento, I moved out there and our practice really blossomed,” Rosette stated. “We represented about 13 tribes in the state. But in ‘04, I decided that based on my roots and the lifestyle here in Phoenix, I wanted to move back to Arizona,” Rosette explained. By this time he was representing tribes all over the country and he decided to open his own law firm in Arizona.
Rosette, LLP is 16 attorneys strong, representing tribal clients across the United States. “It’s definitely a multi-jurisdictional practice. It’s not uncommon for one of our attorneys in Arizona to be closing a half billion dollar deal in another state,” Rosette said. “It’s a federal practice and we don’t find ourselves in state courts very often unless a state sues a tribe and then we have to make an appearance in that state court.”
Working as a Group
The attorneys at Rosette, LLP handle a wide range of tribal cases. “I know that the gaming cases seem prevalent because a lot of people talk about gaming, but we are actually a very diverse Indian law firm. We have a huge focus and emphasis on e-commerce and economic development, especially as it relates to tribal governments and what they’re able to do online,” explained the attorney. “We help clients in regards to processing financial transactions online, all forms of Internet commerce and structuring various joint venture and capital agreements to really bring tribal governments into the entire e-commerce movement and industry.”
The group of attorneys at Rosette, LLP work together seamlessly. “We kind of break it down. We have transaction attorneys who specialize on financial transactions. So, if we have a casino expansion or a resort development or e-commerce venture there is a practice group that can work together to close that transaction,” Rosette said. “That may include attorneys from Sacramento and Phoenix working together to close that transaction. We have litigation experts that work together from multiples offices. Our Washington D.C. office has very good litigators and they’ll work with whichever state the litigation is based out of and whatever tribe is nearest to those locations. But, they’ll take the lead on drafting complaints and writing briefs and then work with local counsel to make sure it’s a polished work product.”
The new office in Washington, D.C. is overseen by managing partner, Saba Bazzazieh. “We are thrilled to continue to expand our law practice,” said Bazzazieh. “We look forward to continuing to provide our tribal clients with the highest level of professionalism and anticipate having a strong legal presence in our nation’s capital.”
“We are a really solid group of attorneys that handle the day-to-day affairs of our tribal clients. There really is nothing in 17 years of practice that we haven’t seen. We really lean on each other office-to-office in a very coordinated approach to make sure we are delivering efficient and effective legal services,” Rosette stated. “It’s definitely a legal niche and there used to be a lot more Indian law boutique law firms, but just like everything, there’s been a lot of downsizing.
“The unique thing about our firm is we only represent Indian tribal governments. We don’t represent banks, gaming development companies, slot manufacturers, non-Indian companies or non-Indians. It’s really hard to make that kind of commitment and still be successful and keep your doors open. Most tribes are not located near urban locations, and quite frankly, they don’t have the resources available to them to acquire the advocacy they need. I think we’re one of the only boutique Indian law firms that really stays true to form in regards to representing tribal governments,” Rosette explained. Other non-Indian clients may be able to pay retainers and higher fees, but Rosette, LLP stays focused on the specific clients they represent.
On the Case
“We’re working through a case now and it’s my favorite case. My tribal clients, the Otoe-Missouri Tribe of Oklahoma and the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa from Michigan sued the state of New York,” said Rosette. “The director of finance in New York, Lawsky, sent a letter to banks threatening to revoke their license to conduct business in the state of New York if they continued to engage in business with Indian tribes. It was a fairly aggressive position and caused my clients direct harm because many of the banks then refused to work with the tribes.”
The firm sued the state of New York for their actions. “During our oral argument in the district court, the judges noticed the case was much more than a lending case. The impact of that ruling will mean a lot more to Indian tribes because it is going to define how tribes are able to engage in e-commerce going forward,” said Rosette.
“It’s a very important case and one that I’m trying to get more tribes and their representatives involved in so they can see what the implications are.”
The firm also represented the Havasupai Tribe who live at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The tribe is one of only a few isolated populations, which means their blood is more pure, and unbeknownst to the tribe, very valuable. Scientists wanted access to the blood because of this purity. A scientist drew the tribal members’ blood under false pretenses and wound up selling it to other companies and organizations for other unauthorized experiments. The tribe was duped. “I took that case and sued Arizona and the board of regents. It was a difficult case,” stated Rosette.
Whether fighting for e-commerce and transactional rights or for unique rights that affect only tribal members and government, the attorneys at Rosette, LLP have the strength in their collective bench to take on the toughest of tribally-connected lawsuits. Rosette expects to continue to draw on his former alma mater ASU, for their Indian Legal Program law school graduates that are schooled in federal Indian law and tribal law, and hopes to add more of those graduates to his firm in the future.
For more information, visit www.rosettelaw.com.