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[Archived] Services held for Julian Fite, STIR President.

| News | January 06, 2015

The former U.S. attorney collapsed at a tribal Sovereignty Symposium in Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Julian Fite, a former U.S. attorney and general counsel for the Cherokee Nation, died Thursday at the 18th annual Sovereignty Symposium. He was 60.
Funeral services are pending with Bradley Funeral Service in Muskogee.

Fite was in the audience of an Indian trust reform panel discussion when he left about midway through the session and collapsed about 10 a.m.

He was taken to nearby St. Anthony Hospital, where he was pronounced dead after attempts to revive him failed.

Fite was born Jan. 10, 1945, in Muskogee. He received a bachelor's degree from Davidson College in North Carolina in 1967 and a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1970.

A Muskogee resident, Fite was the district attorney for Muskogee County from 1975 to 1977. He was a U.S. attorney from 1978 to 1980 for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, based in Muskogee. He once ran unsuccessfully for state attorney general.

Fite was employed by the Cherokee Nation for 10 years, and he recently was an assistant professor in criminal justice at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.

At Thursday's symposium, the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma sang an Indian hymn and offered a prayer in its native language after learning that Fite had died, and tribal officials paid tribute to their counsel.

Cherokee Chief Chad Smith, who attended the symposium, said Fite had steered the tribe through many situations in which his experience was a benefit to many.

"He was an accomplished lawyer and a dedicated servant and patriot of the Cherokee Nation, the state of Oklahoma and the United States," Smith said.

Fite was known for his strong defense of tribal sovereignty.

During his service to the Cherokee Nation, he was effective in preserving and promoting Cherokee Nation interests in car tag, tobacco tax and gaming compact negotiations with the state.

In Muskogee, U.S. Attorney Sheldon Sperling, while offering condolences to Fite's family, said Fite was the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma from January 1978 to Aug. 1, 1980, when he left the post for private practice.

Fite was appointed to the position by President Carter.

"He was a highly respected, highly competent attorney," Sperling said. "His word was golden."

The same sentiments were expressed by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who grew up with Fite in Muskogee.

"Julian and I were both elected to public office the same year," Edmondson said. "He was elected district attorney of Muskogee (County) in 1974, the same year I was elected to the Oklahoma Legislature."

Edmondson said Fite's life "emulated one of his heroes, which was Teddy Roosevelt, in that all of his adult life he has been in the arena, as a DA, as a United States Attorney, and as general counsel for the Cherokee Nation."

"He has always been actively involved in causes, and he will be sorely missed."

Edmondson noted that Fite and his brother, Jim Edmondson, a former Muskogee County district judge and now a state Supreme Court justice, were the same age and best friends.

"Jim was an assistant U.S. attorney with Julian and an assistant DA with Julian," Edmondson said.

Fite is survived by his wife, Jennifer Fite; a son, Travis Fite; a daughter, Missy Caldwell; and two sisters, Betty Jo Fite Hayes of Hope, Ark., and Francie Fite of McLean, Va.