A Principled Approach to Law and Business

headshot of peter carmen smiling at the camera, wearing a blue suit and tie in front of tan wall

Like most kids his age growing up in Syracuse in the 70s, Peter Carmen L’91 didn’t reflect on Indigenous lands or tribal sovereignty. It wasn’t part of the public consciousness then. That makes the story of how he became one of this nation’s leading advocates for tribal sovereignty and a driving force behind the success of Turning Stone Enterprises, LLC all the more intriguing.

Today, Carmen is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Oneida Indian Nation and its enterprises in gaming, hospitality, entertainment, retail, and technology, including the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY. Before stepping into his current role in 2010, Carmen was General Counsel and Senior Vice President. He has been a member of the College of Law’s Board of Advisors since 2022.

“I knew in high school I wanted to be a lawyer,” says Carmen. “I had so much fun in mock trials, drawn to issues of fairness.” His first philosophy course at Brandeis University focused on Socrates. “Finding the truth through the Socratic method resonated with me. My honors thesis tackled the cosmological argument for the existence of God.”

At the College of Law, he was inspired by professors in constitutional law and the appellate team. He is grateful for the discipline demanded by professors like Christian Day. “I remember how he ripped apart my first brief,” says Carmen. “He shaped how I write today. Lawyers shouldn’t write like philosophers. Philosophers wax on. Attorneys must make the point and get out. Every sentence must advance the point from the previous sentence. If it doesn’t, it’s superfluous.”

Carmen was working at Mackenzie Hughes LLP in Syracuse when he met Oneida Indian Nation leader Ray Halbritter ’85. “I was immediately intrigued by the variety and complexity of issues,” he says. Halbritter asked for help on an internal tribal issue and was impressed enough with the results that he engaged Carmen and his firm to assist Oneida’s formidable legal team. “They wanted a ‘green light lawyer’ who could envision solutions and work through roadblocks. We were aligned in our values and culture.”

So aligned that Carmen accepted Halbritter’s offer to join Oneida as its General Counsel in 2005. The years since have proven the law to be a powerful tool in the hands of a resourceful and values-driven organization to achieve fairness and prosperity for the tribal community and the region.

Carmen says the highlight of his career was teaming with Halbritter and another College of Law alum (Oneida’s current General Counsel) Meghan Murphy Beakman G’00, L’00, to negotiate the 2013 historic agreement with the state of New York and local counties that resolved every outstanding legal issue related to land, tax, cultural and gaming disputes, while bringing significant revenue to local economies.

Carmen’s focus shifted to operations when he became COO in 2010, working with Halbritter to oversee one of the region’s largest employers and a respected partner in community and economic development with an estimated annual economic impact exceeding $1 billion.

When Oneida announced last year that it was entering into the cannabis business (from seed to sale), with the Verona Collective, one prominent news commentator said: “They will follow whatever professional standards there are in that industry and they will do it far faster and far more affordably. Everything (they) have touched has, over time, turned to gold because they used common sense and hard work.”

For Carmen, who never imagined himself in the gambling or marijuana business, it’s the principled approach to the practice of law and business that drives him. “At the end of the day, our business is a people business. And I have the honor and privilege of working for the Oneida people.”