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Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement
Cobell appeals removal of judge and IT decision


The Cobell plaintiffs announced on Thursday they will fight to keep Judge Royce Lamberth on the long-running and contentious trust fund case.

Last month, a federal appeals court removed Lamberth after 10 years of hearing the lawsuit. A panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Reagan-appointed judge became too biased in his rulings against the federal government.

Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana, called that decision "unprecedented." "To take a judge of this caliber and integrity from a case as complex as this is terribly unfair and a travesty of justice," she said yesterday. "It is another dark chapter in the history of this nation’s mistreatment of Indian people."

Cobell said the plaintiffs will appeal Lamberth's removal to the U.S. Supreme Court. This marks only the second time in the history of the case that the high court is being asked to get involved, and only the first time the plaintiffs have sought such review.

Previously, the Bush administration passed on a chance to appeal a landmark historical accounting and breach of trust decision to the Supreme Court. But government attorneys have challenged every single ruling made by Lamberth and have won several reversals on procedural and legal grounds.

The removal of Lamberth on July 11 was accompanied by a decision to lift a computer security injunction imposed on the Interior Department. Cobell said the plaintiffs will ask the entire panel of the D.C. Circuit to rehear that part of the case.

Lamberth had ordered Interior to safeguard computer systems housing billions of dollars in individual Indian trust data from the public Internet. A series of reports by independent experts and Interior's own Inspector General found holes in the system despite a reported $100 million-plus in upgrades.

"Absent the injunction, it is certain that unauthorized access to, and the unlawful manipulation and alteration of IITD will continue undetected," the plaintiffs said in a petition for the rehearing.

The legal moves come amid Congressional efforts to settle the case. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee has been holding meetings in Indian Country to take input on legislation to resolve the case for $8 billion and implement trust reforms.

The plaintiffs, tribal leaders and individual Indians had anticipated the advancement of the $8 billion settlement in late July. But Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the committee, and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the vice chairman, pulled it after a last-minute meeting with the Bush administration.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asked for more time to work on the proposal, although it was introduced over a year ago. McCain had said on a couple of occasions that the administration had yet to provide its formal views on the package despite repeated hearings.

However, McCain said Kempthorne and Gonzales pledged their commitment to resolve the case. He indicated his bill would take on a broader scope in hopes of resolving a slew of trust fund issues, although the $8 billion figure has remained the same.

Committee staff are currently meeting in Rapid City, South Dakota, to take input on the proposal. Details of a September 1 meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, are still being finalized.

Relevant Documents:
Petition for Rehearing

Court Decisions:
Lamberth Removal | IT Injunction

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Statement:
INDIAN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE POSTPONES CONSIDERATION OF TRUST REFORM LEGISLATION (August 2, 2006)

Indian Trust Reform Act:
S.1439 | H.R.4322

Relevant Links:
Senate Indian Affairs Committee - http://indian.senate.gov
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Kempthorne - http://www.indiantrust.com
Office of Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm