indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439   fax: 202 318 2182
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
Cobell blasts Bush for blaming BIA cut on lawsuit
Friday, February 24, 2006

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit, asked key members of Congress on Thursday to stop the Bush administration from cutting the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget in order to pay for the case.

In a letter to 18 lawmakers from both parties, Cobell accused the Interior Department of punishing Indian Country for its own mistakes. She objected to a $3 million cut to the BIA budget meant to offset $7 million in attorney's fees that were awarded to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

"After fighting the federal government for nearly 10 years over its acknowledged mismanagement of Indian Trust programs, I have learned not to be surprised by the government's efforts to avoid responsibility for its misdeeds," she wrote. "But what the government is attempting to do now is a new low."

Cobell was referring to a decision by associate deputy secretary Jim Cason, a Bush appointee who was not confirmed by Congress, to take money away from Indian programs to cover the attorney's fees. In a January 29 letter to tribal leaders, he blamed the budget cut on the lawsuit, arguing that the administration had not planned for the expense.

But Cobell, in her letter, pointed out that the plaintiffs made their initial fee request in October 2003. A more detailed petition was filed in court in August 2004 after U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who is handling the case, indicated he would resolve the matter.

"Nevertheless, Interior officials now feign surprise and stated that the award of fees was unforeseeable," Cobell responded. "As is readily apparent from the above stated faces, Interior's contention is simply false."

Cason has defended his decision in public and in the news media. He argued that he tried to minimize the impact on BIA programs but hasn't explained why the BIA bore the brunt of budget cut while the Office of Special Trustee and the Department of Treasury, a named defendant, didn't contribute as much to pay.

"We looked at a wide variety of alternatives to pay those funds and at the end of that process, basically I made the decision for the department to try to spread the impact across number of programs to minimize the impact on any one single program," Cason told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee at a budget hearing on February 14.

A number of lawmakers have already voiced objections to the funding cut. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) questioned Cason at the hearing and wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton to seek other ways to pay the attorney's fees without dipping into tribal programs.

"The funds that were cut serve the nation's poorest peoples and we should do everything that we can to maintain and increase program funding for Indian Country, not cut funding," Johnson wrote. "There are clearly better alternatives than cutting program funding, and I am willing to pursue solutions at the legislative level that do not involve politicizing the Cobell litigation."

Tribal leaders have repeatedly criticized the administration for cutting funding for reservation-level programs in order to pay for trust reform. While the BIA budget has been reduced or flat-lined in recent years, the OST budget has grown significantly, and a lot the money is never seen in Indian Country.

"This litigation is diverting money from other needs and creating an environment in the administration that makes it hard to move on to other issues," Joe Garcia, the new president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in his State of Indian Nations address earlier this month.

Despite the concerns, there appears to be little that members of Congress plan on doing to address the situation. Although they have worked consistently to restore Bush's budget cuts, it is unlikely they will appropriate extra money to pay the attorney's fees.

The $7 million award covers the first five years of the case, from the day it was filed on June 10, 1996, to February 23, 2001, the day the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the federal government's responsibility to conduct an historical accounting of Indian trust funds. Since the plaintiffs prevailed, they are entitled to recover their costs under the federal Equal Access to Justice Act.

"Here, plaintiffs achieved more than 'excellent results,' they achieved a 'stunning victory,'" Lamberth wrote in his decision to award the fees.

Of the award, $4.5 million went to legal fees for the attorneys handling the case - including the non-profit Native American Rights Fund -- and $2.5 million in expenses for experts hired as part of the case. Keith Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation and NARF attorney, said his organization and his fellow attorneys, who are not being paid by Cobell, may not be seeing portions of the money at all.

"Many of the grants that we've received in support of the case must be paid back in part or full so we're in ongoing discussions with foundations regarding how much of that money we will actually, if any, be able to keep," he said in an interview.

Elouise Cobell Letter:
Dear Lawmakers (February 23, 2006)

Jim Cason Letter:
Dear Tribal Leader (January 26, 2006)

Cobell Court Fees:
Memorandum and Order (December 19, 2005)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm

Related Stories:
Tom Cole blasts Interior for cutting BIA funds (2/6)
Garcia turns to Four Directions to guide Indian Country (02/03)
Bush punishes BIA budget to pay for Cobell (02/02)
Tribes discuss trust reform bill, Cobell settlement (1/31)
Commentary: Swimmer still not telling the truth on trust (1/26)
Opinion: Indians want $12B of 'YOUR' money (01/10)
Cobell: Appeals court ruling a favorable one (12/21)
Cobell team awarded fees for lengthy court fight (12/21)
Ross Swimmer: No 'lump sum' settlement for Cobell (12/19)
Attorney: Interior still not living up to trust duties (12/19)
Report: Cason says termination of trust on the table (12/16)
Still no agreement on settlement to Cobell (12/9)
Audio: House Resources hearing on Cobell (12/8)
House Resources to hold hearing on Cobell (12/5)
Elouise Cobell: Lamberth frustrated with DOI (11/28)
Judge Lamberth, the cowboy, sides with Indians (11/28)
Editorial: Settle Cobell trust fund lawsuit (11/25)
Cobell to press Interior on accounting mess (11/22)
Cobell says government not off the hook on trust fund (11/21)
Broad accounting of Indian trust fund blocked (11/16)
Battle over Cobell trust fund case heats up (10/24)
Interior ordered to protect Indian trust fund systems(10/21)
Lamberth issues new IT shutdown injunction (10/20)
Interior warned of computer security risks again (09/30)
Bush calls for new judge in Cobell v. Norton case (08/16)
BLM CIO threatened with demotion in Cobell case (08/02)
Appeals court stays Lamberth order on notices (7/29)
DOI mum on settlement figure for Cobell v. Norton (7/27)
Indian leaders to pledge support on trust reform (7/26)
Listening Lounge: Senate hearing on Cobell (7/26)
Cobell calls trust reform bill a win for Interior (7/22)
McCain and Dorgan introduce trust reform legislation (7/22)
Opinion: Keep open mind on Cobell settlement (7/19)
McCain plans hearing on Cobell settlement, reform (7/14)
Judge blasts Interior on handling of trust (7/13)
Elouise Cobell: Principles put trust back into trust fund (07/07)
Cobell and Cason to appear on C-SPAN program (7/6)
Cobell calls for settlement of trust fund lawsuit (7/5)
Editorial: Resolution of trust fund debacle needed (7/5)
Editorial: Abramoff scandal can't compare to trust (6/30)
Opinion: Downfall of Indians traced to Army, BIA (6/28)
Pombo supports settlement of Cobell trust fund case (6/27)
Harjo: Tribes lobby to fleece their own people (6/24)
Editorial: Congress should settle trust fund (6/24)
Editorial: Trust fund a 'national embarassment' (6/22)
Indian Country united on trust reform solutions (6/21)
Trust workgroup to outline Cobell settlement goals (6/17)
Trust reform costs put at $3B, thanks to Bush (6/13)
Echohawk optimistic on settlement of Cobell case (06/03)
Final trust reform meeting held in North Dakota (6/3)
UTTC hosts meeting on trust reform legislation (6/1)
House panel acts to restore Bush budget cuts (05/05)
NCAI and ITMA hold second trust reform meeting (05/04)
Bush administration won't give up fight on Cobell (03/18)
McCain weighs GAO probe of Indian trust debacle (03/10)
McCain lays out Indian agenda for 109th Congress (3/7)
Norton won't testify on trust fund retaliation (2/28)
Bush official won't accept claims of trust mismanagement (02/17)
Appeals court won't hold back Lamberth on trust reform (12/13)
Appeals court supports Lamberth's authority on IT (12/06)
Lamberth critical of Norton's 'bad faith' on trust fund (10/25)
Interior denies attempt to halt trust fund payments (10/05)
Bush administration challenges trust fund ruling (09/16)
Appeals court takes on Cobell trust fund case (9/15)
Lamberth exchanges harsh words with Cobell critic (08/02)
Bush administration calls for end to Cobell case (04/09)
Cobell trust fund suit mediators announced (4/6)
DOI's Internet connection shut down for third time (03/16)
Lamberth defends special master against attack (03/16)
Anderson praises Cobell suit in NCAI speech (2/25)
Tribes still frustrated on trust reform (11/20)
Bush officials blasted by tribal leaders (11/19)
Cobell plaintiffs disputing trust fund rider (11/17)
Daschle criticizes 'shameful' rider in DOI budget bill (11/04)
Norton welcomes time-out in Cobell trust fund case (11/4)
Bush official balks at large settlement for Cobell (7/10)

Copyright 2000-2006 Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Little Shell Tribe gets closer to recognition (4/16)
Native Sun News: Pine Ridge fighter prepares for next match (4/16)
Letter from Cobell attorneys on second settlement payment (4/16)
Secretary Jewell to deliver commencement address at SIPI (4/16)
Navajo Code Talker Samuel Smith passes away at age of 88 (4/16)
Nicholet Deschine: KTNN accepts 'hush money' for racial slur (4/16)
Lawsuit claims remains were removed for Jamul Band casino (4/16)
Opinion: Another futile lawsuit against Poarch Creek casinos (4/16)
Native Sun News: Tribes benefit from $5.15B uranium cleanup (4/15)
Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne Tribe marks return of chief (4/15)
DOI extends $1.2M in offers to Makah Reservation landowners (4/15)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee listening session in Montana (4/15)
Ernie Stevens: NIGA won't support racist depictions of Natives (4/15)
Navajo casino enterprise wasn't told of NFL team involvement (4/15)
Steven Newcomb: Scientists lay claim to Kumeyaay ancestors (4/15)
Opinion: Judge delivered 'remarkable opinion' in Cobell lawsuit (4/15)
Umatilla player Shoni Schimmel drafted by Atlanta WNBA team (4/15)
Fort Sill Apache Tribe wins recognition in New Mexico homeland (4/15)
CNN Series: Best places to experience Native American culture (4/15)
Lummi Nation argues for treaty fishing rights in disputed areas (4/15)
Blackfeet Nation heads into election season amid ongoing feud (4/15)
School district on Fort Peck Reservation to redraw voting areas (4/15)
Ojibwe man from Canada charged for possession of wild animals (4/15)
Navajo Technical University creates bachelor's degree program (4/15)
Opinion: Ignorance abounds in dealings with indigenous people (4/15)
Ute Tribe reaches new agreement for use of name by university (4/15)
Seminole Tribe faces $9.9M negligence claim over fall at casino (4/15)
Opponents seek referendum on Tohono O'odham Nation casino (4/15)
Connecticut tribes see another decline in slot machine revenue (4/15)
Four people plead guilty for theft from Minnesota tribal casinos (4/15)
Editorial: No surprise in state's loss in Poarch Creek gaming suit (4/15)
Center: Billions at stake in costly debate over Internet gambling (4/15)
Native Sun News: EEOC won't take up Native woman's complaint (4/14)
Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne Tribe battled labor unions too (4/14)
BIA holds listening sessions on Indian Child Welfare Act guidance (4/14)
Judge won't force Puyallup Tribe to comply with IRS levy request (4/14)
Bryan Brewer: Native people must continue fight for sovereignty (4/14)
Jeff Haozous: Fort Sill Apache Tribe deserves say in New Mexico (4/14)
Jacqueline Keeler: Racist mascot taints urban Indian community (4/14)
Notah Begay's foundation backed out of Navajo golf tournament (4/14)
KTNN under fire for hosting event with football team's foundation (4/14)
Sharon Day: Walking the water to protect our future generations (4/14)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.