FROM THE ARCHIVE

Trust fund monitor sends dispute to judge

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WEDNESDAY, MAY 29, 2002

Besieged with criticism, the court official watching over the Indian trust on Tuesday said he would refer the Bush administration's attempts to hamper his investigation to a federal judge.

Citing the government's "checkered" past in the six-year-old case, trust fund monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III accused the Department of Justice of waiting until the last minute to raise objections to his efforts. In a letter to Sandra Spooner, one of Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's defense attorneys, he questioned her willingness to cooperate.

"Considering the course of the checkered ethical and procedural discovery history of the Cobell litigation, your proposals and objections," he wrote yesterday, "do not lend themselves to any assurance [of] your intimations of cooperation and assistance."

Kieffer was responding to roadblocks placed in his way by the government. Earlier this month, he set a schedule to interview three top officials under oath about their efforts to fix the broken trust fund.

But he was informed last week he could not proceed as planned. In a May 22 letter, Spooner said the pending deposition of Bert T. Edwards, who is in charge of telling 300,000 American Indian beneficiaries how much they are owed, could not occur for another month, if at all.

Kieffer was also told the government would stop providing him with information. Although he was given a batch documents about the historical accounting, all future communications were cut off unless they were channeled through a seemingly tedious process established jointly by the Interior and Justice.

The roadblock effectively halted Kieffer's work for at least a month while the government finalized its accounting plan, due June 30. Notably, Spooner's role in a dispute affecting Special Trustee Tom Slonaker and his deputy Tommy Thompson, both of whom were to be deposed, was also to be examined.

Yet rather than squabble over the issues, Kieffer said U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth should resolve them. "I suggest your objections and arguments," he wrote, "should better be submitted to the court for consideration than to me."

A court order might have to be issued to compel the Interior and Justice to cooperate. In her letter, Spooner hinted that was the only way to move forward.

Lamberth might also resolve complaints over Kieffer's most recent report. Norton's legal team urged rejection of the document "in its entirety."

Related Documents:
Kieffer Responds to Delay (5/28) | Spooner Delays Kieffer (5/22) | Kieffer Expands Probe, Targets Spooner (5/22) | Kieffer Sets Depositions (5/15) | Kieffer Seeks Depositions (5/6)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Trust Reform, NCAI - http://130.94.214.68/main/pages/
issues/other_issues/trust_reform.asp

Related Stories:
Trust fund monitor hit with roadblock (5/24)
Audit questions Indian trust security (5/22)
Top trust official comes under fire (5/21)
Norton and court battle on reform (5/20)
Indian Trust: Conflicts of interest (5/20)
Norton challenges court monitor (5/20)
Critical report won't be rescinded (5/14)
Norton deflects misconduct charges (5/10)
Attack on court monitor decried (5/10)
Court report documents trust reform feud (5/3)
Court monitor discusses friction (5/2)