Bankruptcy makes Skywalk case even more twisted



KINGMAN - Who will be responsible for paying the $28.5 million judgment to Grand Canyon Skywalk developer David Jin may depend on another federal court battle.

The Hualapai Tribe says that Sa' Nyu Wa, the tribal corporation that managed the Skywalk, is responsible for paying the judgment. Sa' Nyu Wa has appealed the judgment to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, that appeal is now on hold after Sa' Nyu Wa filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court on March 4. The tribal council has ordered that the operation of the Skywalk be taken over by another tribal entity, Grand Canyon Resort Corporation.

Mark Tratos, Jin's attorney, said that the bankruptcy and reassignment of the Skywalk contract is an attempt to prevent Jin from collecting on the judgment and any future earnings of the Skywalk by effectively dissolving Sa' Nyu Wa.

"It's a shell game, plain and simple," Tratos said.  

What the tribe didn't anticipate was a Hualapai Tribal Court ruling on March 5 that the tribe and Jin should seek arbitration in a federal court before it will set a value on future proceeds from the Skywalk ticket sales, he said.

According to Tratos, the ruling means the council waived its rights to sovereign immunity to be sued over any future proceeds from the Skywalk in tribal court.

The tribal council argued in the past that it did not waive its sovereign immunity in its 2003 contract with Jin and that immunity from lawsuits filed in tribal court also applied to Sa' Nyu Wa, since it was a part of the tribal government. A tribal court ruled in favor of the tribal council and Sa' Nyu Wa in August 2011.

The tribal council used that ruling to justify taking over the Skywalk contract by eminent domain in February 2012.

Since then, the two sides have been arguing about how much Jin should be paid for it in tribal court.

Jin currently values the rights to those future ticket sales at about $277 million. The tribe has valued them at closer to $11 million.

However, the whole legal battle could come to a screeching halt if two people are elected to the tribal council who support ending the three-year court fight.

Two council members, Charlie Vaughn and Candida Hunter, were recalled last week. Both Vaughn and Hunter were strong supporters of the legal fight against Jin.

Their vacancy leaves the nine-member council with four members in favor of continuing the legal fight against Jin, two against, and one swing vote.

If two people are elected to the council who do not support the lawsuit, it could end the legal melee.

The date of a special election to fill the council positions has not been announced.

The Skywalk is a horseshoe-shaped, glass walkway that juts out from the edge of the Grand Canyon on the tribe's land. Jin's company, Grand Canyon Skywalk Development, and the tribal council have argued in court since March 2010 over how money from the ticket sales to the tourist attraction should be split and who should be responsible for finishing the visitor center.