The Buffalo News reported recently that the SNR Denton law firm received millions of dollars in fees from the Senecas while former Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter worked a leader with the tribe. He has since been hired as senior counsel at the firm in D.C.
A partner with SNR Denton, Elliott I. Portnoy, attended college with Porter and was the best man in his wedding, according to sources in Seneca Nation. Critics of Porter think that his new job is a reward for Porter sending $6 million in Seneca Nation legal fees to the firm of his friend.
“To my knowledge, Rob Porter’s close association with [Portnoy] was never disclosed to the Tribal Council,” said a former Seneca Nation leader. “I think the Tribal Council should have been given that information before they approved the hiring of this law firm.”
From November of 2009 to the end of 2012, the firm received $6.1 million in Seneca legal fees. Records obtained by The Buffalo News show that SNR Denton received 60 separate payments ranging in value from $816 to $491,863. In that period, SNR Denton represented the Kinzua Dam Relicensing Commission of the Senecas.
“Rob Porter did not choose the SNR Denton law firm,” said Wendy Huff, former executive director of the Kinzua Dam panel. “We looked at about six or seven law firms, and I believe we interviewed two or three. … It was our commission that recommended [SNR Denton] and the Tribal Council that hired them.”
“Porter was our nation’s senior legal adviser, and then, our president. Under his leadership, we gave more than $6 million in business to the law firm where his best friend is a partner,” the former Seneca official said. “To me, it isn’t right.”
Porter worked as the president of the Seneca Nation for just one term, which ended in November of 2012. He served as the Seneca chief legal counsel for years prior to his presidency.
“We are proud of our long-standing work for the Seneca Nation, which began in 2007 under President Maurice John, and involved a wide range of legal and public policy matters,” a spokesman for SNR Denton said. Porter “joined SNR Denton as a senior counsel this year as a first-tier addition to our nationally ranked Native American Law and Policy practice. This practice includes well-regarded practitioners in all aspects of Indian law, and includes several former officials from the Department of Interior, the National Indian Gaming Commission, and a range of specialists who are well-known in the field.”
Porter issued this statement:
“SNR Denton was hired by the Seneca Nation during the administration of President Maurice John in 2007 following a competitive national search for firms qualified to work on hydropower relicensing projects. I was the Nation legal counsel at the time and recused myself from the law firm selection process due to my personal relationship with Mr. Portnoy. The search process was coordinated by Deputy Counsel Chris Karns at the direction of President John. Under Nation law, the Kinzua Dam Relicensing Commission is an independent agency and, as a result, I had no role in the workings of the Commission or its choice of law firms as either president or chief counsel.
“I am excited to be a part of the Firm’s ongoing growth in its tribal practice. After leaving office and reviewing a number of options for my next steps in the legal profession that included going back to my tenured professorship, I am honored to be working for a global law firm dedicated to protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.
“This bogus allegation is simply the personal vendetta of a few of my political adversaries, something all too common in politics. Rather than focusing on the real issues facing the Seneca Nation, these bitter people would rather spend their time trying to make me a scapegoat for all of their problems.”