A judge has ruled that Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties can join a court fight over federal recognition of Alexander Valley's Wappo Indian tribe.
The counties fear recognition of the Wappos will lead to another tribal casino.
The Wappos filed suit last year against U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, charging they were unlawfully stripped of their tribal status in 1959.
They're asking the Interior Department to restore their tribal rights, benefits and historic lands. The lawsuit — if successful — also would authorize casino gambling on the Wappos' lands under the U.S. Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
A conference in the case was scheduled for Monday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, but was postponed until June 28 to give Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties more time to prepare.
On May 26, Judge James Ware granted the counties' motions to intervene in the case, noting there was no opposition from the tribe or the Interior Department.
"The county is pleased," said Jeffrey Brax, a Sonoma County deputy county counsel. "Our goal is to play an active role and ensure that the rights of the county and its citizens are protected."
Federal recognition of the Wappos could pave the way for a tribal casino or other commercial development, he said.
In motions filed earlier this year, Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties said lands shouldn't be taken out of their jurisdiction without consultation.
Sonoma County said the tribe's lawsuit would allow casino-style gambling "with no review by the county or other affected parties."