Mashantucket tribe's top judge ousted, says he wasn't told why

Thomas Weissmuller, chief judge of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court, confirmed Thursday that he's been let go.

Weissmuller, a North Stonington native who has headed the court since 2005, said the tribal council informed him this week that "he's no longer the chief judge." He said the council provided no explanation.

"I was just thanked for my dedicated service as chief judge," Weissmuller said.

Weissmuller, one of the court's three trial judges, is assigned to hundreds of pending cases, including one in which the architect that designed MGM Grand at Foxwoods is suing the tribe in a contract dispute. Weissmuller filed a ruling on a motion in the case last week, court records show.

Requests for comment from several tribal officials yielded a single response: "The tribe does not comment on personnel matters."

Neither of the court's two part-time trial judges, New London attorneys Thomas Londregan and Edward O'Connell, answered phone messages.

Weissmuller, 45, of Stonington, said he was not under contract and that he had not received any negative evaluations from the tribe.

"I've enjoyed every day working here," he said, declining to discuss his status further.

Weissmuller had been sworn in to three-year terms in January 2005 and January 2008.

M. John Strafaci, a New London attorney with matters pending in tribal court, said he heard from court staff Wednesday that Weissmuller had not been renewed. He said, however, he has received no official notice.

A court clerk said she could not comment on personnel matters.

Strafaci called Weissmuller "an excellent judge … someone who's ruled in my favor sometimes and sometimes not, but always one who gave my clients a fair shot. I found him to be very knowledgeable about Indian law."

In a case assigned to Weissmuller, Strafaci is representing the White Mountain Apache Tribe of Arizona, which alleges that the Mashantuckets' Pequot Plus Health Benefit Services mishandled the Arizona tribe's medical claims as a third-party administrator. Strafaci said he had recently argued a motion in the case and was awaiting Weissmuller's ruling.

According to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Laws, the chief judge is responsible for the tribal court's administration, including supervision of all court personnel. The chief judge is required to submit a schedule of court fees to the tribe's Judicial Committee and must file an annual report of the court's activities, including the number of cases filed, pending and resolved, and a summary of significant cases.

Weissmuller, a non-Indian, has been a judge in Indian Country for 15 years, and was in private practice in Washington state before that. He graduated from North Stonington's Wheeler High School in 1983. According to the Mashantuckets' website, he also graduated from the University of Rhode Island, the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis and the National Judicial College at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 1998, he was named chief judge of the Swinomish and Tulalip Indian reservations in Washington state.

Weissmuller has served on the Advisory Council of the National Criminal Justice Association, which represents state, tribal and local governments on crime and public-safety issues.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court, created in 1992, is regarded as one of the most sophisticated tribal courts in the United States. It handles civil disputes involving the tribe's Foxwoods Resort Casino as well as some criminal cases involving tribal members. The court has published more than 1,100 decisions and appellate opinions, some of which have been cited in tribal, state and federal courts across the country.

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