Norton wanted off trust fund
Facebook Twitter Email

Citing recent court reports and opinions that document "unprecedented deception, malfeasance, and incompetence," the plaintiffs in the billion dollar trust fund lawsuit asked a federal judge on Friday to take the failed system away from the government and hold an impressive array of top-level officials, attorneys and senior management in contempt.

Unless U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth acts soon, the government will continue to inflict "irreparable harm" on an estimated 300,000 Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders, the plaintiffs wrote in a court filing. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, her aides and attorneys -- in connection with the Department of Justice -- have worsened an already broken trust and the only solution is to strip away their power, the plaintiffs added.

"Effective trust management and meaningful trust reform will never occur as long as Secretary Norton continues to control the IIM Trust," the plaintiffs wrote in a lengthy 74-page motion.

When he made his landmark ruling in December 1999, Lamberth rejected a request by the plaintiffs to give the system to a receiver, or an outside caretaker. Instead, he gave the government five more years to prove it could fix a system which has been mismanaged for more than 100 years.

But since the ruling, the government has run into serious problems -- both under the Clinton and Bush administrations -- that have called into question its capabilities. Twice, a special master has recommended Norton and other officials be held in contempt and a court monitor has released four reports highly critical of efforts to fix the system.

Among the controversies cited have been continued destruction of trust records against court orders, retaliation against employees despite court protections, severe communication problems among top officials and senior management and an overall unwillingness to present an accurate picture of a reform effort that has cost American taxpayers more than $614 million but for which the government is still unable to give a single account holder an accurate report of his or her funds.

These problems, and others, necessitate an outside receiver to prevent continued "fraud and abuse," said the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs are also seeking jail time, fees and other sanctions for 39 government officials, management and attorneys for their handling of the debacle.

In addition to Secretary Norton, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb and Solicitor Bill Myers -- whom a group of senior managers suggested was trying to intimidate them -- are named by the plaintiffs. Former Secretary Bruce Babbitt, former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover and former Solicitor John Leshy are also named.

Along with former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Babbitt and Gover were previously held in contempt for not turning over documents to Lamberth. Lamberth has yet to act on special master Alan Balaran's two recommendations to hold a number of past and present officials and management, many of whom were named by the plaintiffs in Friday's filing, in contempt.

A spokesperson for the Interior on Friday said the government had yet to see the filing but would respond to it.

The IIM trust generates about $500 million in royalties annually but no account balance is guaranteed to be correct. A legal mandate to give each Indian beneficiary an accounting of his or her funds was stalled by the Clinton administration for one and one-half years even after Lamberth reminded the government of its trust responsibilities.

Although Norton has cited numerous attempts to improve trust reform, her administration has yet to provide a firm date or produce a plan to give American Indians what she has acknowledged is "long overdue."

Relevant Links:
Office of the Special Trustee -
Office of the Solicitor -
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

Related Stories:
Norton blasted on trust fund (10/17)
Interior Solicitor on trust fund crash course (10/17)
Trust fund progress testing 'credibility' (10/11)
Trust fund fix risking 'failure' (10/10)
Memo: Solicitor's order was 'intimidating' (10/10)
In The Hoop: Interior Bungling (10/10)
Infighting delaying trust fund fix (9/20)
Objections delaying trust fund report (9/6)
Norton pushes trust fund progress (8/27)