MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

May 7, 2013

Cherokee attorney general on leave for alcohol treatment

By Teddye Snell
CNHI

— TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree has been granted a leave of absence to seek treatment for alcohol dependence, according to a statement from the principal chief.

According to documents received by the Tahlequah Daily Press, Deputy Attorney General Nason Morton will lead the office during Hembree’s absence.

“As you know, alcoholism has been the scourge of Indian Country for generations, and no one, regardless of education, position or faith, is immune,” Hembree wrote in a letter to Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “The support of my wife, children, extended family and staff make it possible for me to tell the Cherokee people that I struggle with this difficult disease.”

According to a statement by Baker, Hembree’s dependency has had an effect on tribal employees. He confirmed that Hembree requested and received a leave of absence.

“The use of alcohol not only affects that person, but it impacts the lives of their family, friends and loved ones,” Baker said in the statement. “In the case of a public official, it affects the people he or she may serve, and sometimes, colleagues. Late last week, I learned of Todd’s alcohol dependency and the effects it has had on some employees. I met with those employees and expressed my sadness and displeasure for the pain he caused them and let them know I don’t condone his actions.”

Cherokee Marshal Shannon Buhl indicated he’d been contacted by Baker to investigate the allegations against Hembree.

“Principal Chief Bill John Baker notified me last week of certain text messages sent by Attorney General Todd Hembree,” Buhl wrote in a statement. “We immediately conducted an investigation, and while the messages are troubling, I have found no violation of tribal code.”

Buhl said to protect the confidentiality of the parties involved, the details of the investigation will not be released.

Baker said that although Hembree and his family remain in the administration’s thoughts and prayers, Baker’s priority is maintaining a cohesive work environment.

“My duty as principal chief is to uphold the Cherokee Nation Constitution and the integrity of our government and serve the people to the best of my ability,” said Baker. “Paramount to me is ensuring our employees have a safe and professional workplace.”

Teddye Snell reports for the Tahlequah Daily Press.