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In The Hoop

Welcome to In The Hoop, Indianz.Com's occasional column about assorted Indian issues.

Here Comes The Judge
A packed courtroom of about 100 spectators, reporters government representatives and private lawyers crowded the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth on Friday, waiting for him to preside over yet another chapter in the trust fund debacle.

So what did Lamberth do? He made them all wait.

Always a stickler for the rules, his delay came as a surprise to some audience members who wondered aloud what was taking him so long. Others were clearly antsy and their talk generated to gossip.

Two spectators focused on the identity of two men seated in section of the courtroom typically reserved for a jury. "I think those are lawyers for the people," one began to speculate.

"That are going to put in jail?" finished the friend.

Possibly. But it turns out the two were just regular old reporters covering the hearing.

One of the 20 or so private counsel representing past and former government officials, attorneys and senior management took advantage of the wait to chat with a colleague about their client's fate. "Bring it on!" she exclaimed, evoking former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover.

Alas, she did not appear to be K.Go in disguise, unless he can magically transform himself into a middle-aged white woman.

So after about 20 minutes, Lamberth appeared before the masses. What was the reason?

It turns out that Attorney General John Ashcroft personally asked him to make a decision on a government intelligence matter, he said.

Seems good enough for us!

Do You Swear . . .
With a contempt trial set to begin next Monday, just who will testify is another hot topic. Obviously, the plaintiffs want Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb to take the stand, as well as their Clinton predecessors.

A Department of Justice attorney didn't immediately disagree with the suggestion to call top officials. An Interior spokesperson today said the department hasn't developed a position on whether Norton in particular would take the stand, which could upset her promise to meet with tribal leaders in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on December 13.

The plaintiffs also want Tommy Thompson, a senior Office of Special Trustee official, to testify because he is a "credible witness," said attorney Dennis Gingold. Mona Infield, a BIA employee who has been sitting at home for the past year doing nothing, and Dom Nessi, the BIA's former top computer official who made the call to send her packing, are also sought.

Anne Sheields, former chief of staff to Secretary Bruce Babbitt, might also be called to share her knowledge of a meeting during which the department considering, but did not, telling Lamberth that a $40 million computer system was failing.

On behalf of the government, an attorney said contractors from DataComm Sciences would be called. DataComm is handling data cleanup, one of those trust projects so behind schedule that Incredible Shrinking Special Trustee Tom Slonaker said could take decades to complete.

Despite all the names, attorneys for the plaintiffs said there is talk a number of witness may plead the Fifth Amendment if called to the stand. If that happens, their silence might be just as incriminating.

Indian Advocate
Speaking of Clinton predecessors, Bruce Babbitt isn't too busy to break from his busy schedule of not advocating for Indian Country to lobby Congress on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

According to The Anchorage Daily News, Babbitt and two ex-secretaries wrote members of the Senate on the issue, expected to be taken up in a procedural vote this evening. "Railroad retirement legislation and economic stimulus packages are the wrong forum to be debating complex energy legislation or deciding the fate of one of our country's greatest wilderness and wildlife treasures -- the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," the paper quoted the men as saying.

In Your Hoop
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