Battle looms over Norton's 'unfit' ruling
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A federal appeals court is moving forward Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's challenge to a ruling that declared her and former Indian affairs aide Neal McCaleb "unfit" to manage money belonging to 500,000 American Indians.

Orders the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals made last week promise a speedy resolution. With final briefs due in mid-March, oral arguments could be heard shortly thereafter.

Attorneys for Norton asked for an expedited review. They have accused U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth of making personal attacks on Bush administration officials when he held Norton and McCaleb in contempt of court for lying about efforts to reform the trust management system.

"The court has taken the remarkable step of branding these officials 'unfit,' and advising the Secretary to resign if she finds the court's rulings unacceptable," the Department of Justice said on December 6.

Attorneys for the Indian plaintiffs are disputing whether Norton can appeal her contempt citation at all. In court papers, they say the law is clear.

"The simple fact of the matter is that the district court's findings of civil contempt . . . may not be appealed," a January 3 response stated.

Due to the issues raised, Dennis Gingold, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said the appeals court has taken an unusual step and has asked both parties to prepare briefs on the plaintiffs' request to dismiss and Norton's bid to overturn the contempt ruling.

The last time the Department of Interior went to the appeals court, it lost. Clinton administration lawyers thought they could defeat Lamberth's order to account for funds belonging to the Indian beneficiaries. Instead, the court affirmed the decision unanimously.

Lamberth has also been challenged for other contempt rulings. In a separate suit involving the District of Columbia Department of Corrections, he one official to jail for six months, a sentence that was later upheld on appeal.

Of at least eight times Lamberth has resorted to using his contempt powers, he was upheld three times and reversed twice. The other three contemnors chose not to appeal to the D.C. Circuit.

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice -
Trust Reform, NCAI -

Related Stories:
Norton attacks 'unfit' trustee ruling (12/9)
Congratulate unfit Bush officials (12/9)
McCaleb faces continued probe (11/26)
Interior's casualties of war (11/25)
McCaleb resigning from BIA (11/22)
17 months at arm's length (11/22)
Norton fights contempt citation (11/20)
Tribal organization subpoenaed (11/20)
Lamberth upheld on contempt (11/20)
Norton appeals contempt decision (11/19)
Norton again blames Cobell (11/18)
Interior blasted for ignoring court (11/14)
McCaleb admits to e-mail 'misunderstanding' (10/23)
Interior admits to more destruction of e-mails (10/22)
Court probes Norton's trust fund report (10/11)
Court moves BIA intimidation case forward (10/04)
Judge rejects Norton's 'absurd' accounting claim (9/23)
Norton's witness on TAAMS does damage (09/23)
Bush facing heightened contempt probes (09/19)
Norton 'unfit' to manage Indian trust (9/18)
Griles nearly perjured himself (9/18)
Congress responds to contempt (9/18)
Norton found in contempt for trust fund (9/17)

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