Trust fund holders call for contempt
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Charging that the Bush administration has done nothing to provide American Indians with an accounting of the money they are owed, the plaintiffs in the trust fund lawsuit on Monday asked a federal judge to consider holding Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and other top officials in contempt of court.

Unless US District Judge Royce Lamberth acts quickly, Norton and her aides will continue to ignore their duties to an estimated 300,000 Individual Indian Money IIM) account holders throughout the country, the plaintiffs said. The Department of Interior must be ordered to complete its accounting by October 19 of this year or Indian beneficiaries will see even more delays, they claimed.

"Now is the time for this Court to take decisive action to correct the abuses of defendants and their counsel and ensure that they do not recur," wrote the plaintiffs in the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit. "For it is clear, this case has been derailed by fraud and abuse."

Armed with two court monitor reports highly critical of the government, the plaintiffs are setting an aggressive schedule for Lamberth to consider. He is currently overseeing a death penalty case that the plaintiff's lawyers expect to go to trial within the coming week.

That would leave him free to act on their requests, the lawyers hope. Along with contempt proceedings, they again asked Lamberth to set a January 8, 2002, trial date against the Bush administration.

The trial would focus on how much the account holders are due for more than 100 years of historical mismanagement of their funds. Although Lamberth in December 1999 said the Interior was required -- under federal law -- to provide the accounting "without regard to when the funds were deposited," the government has yet to move forward.

In July, court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer found the Clinton administration delayed the accounting by hatching a statistical sampling plan over the objections of account holders. Norton then approved the plan with no research into the issue, he said.

But even though she agreed an accounting is "long overdue," Norton has since challenged Kieffer's finding. A court document her attorneys filed earlier this month said the government has never been "ordered" to provide the accounting.

At the same time, Norton's attorneys claim progress has been made. They said the new Office of Historical Trust Accounting, created in July, would "accelerate, not delay" her trust responsibilities.

According to a schedule laid out by Norton, the office is to come up with a "comprehensive description and timetable for completion of all steps that are needed to staff and develop a comprehensive plan" within 60 days. Then, the office would take an additional 120 days to begin preliminary work.

Only then would the Interior be able to come up with "detailed plans" for the accounting. Should Lamberth reject the request of the plaintiffs, the government would not be ready to complete an accounting until early next year, more than five years after the lawsuit was filed.

The plaintiffs have exempted Department of Treasury officials from their latest salvo. Among the officials wanted in contempt are Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb, Deputy Commissioner Sharon Blackwell, former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover and former Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

Past and present attorneys in the Solicitor's office are also named in the filing. Recently sworn-in Solicitor Bill Myers has called for a probe into the conduct of his staff and has recused three attorneys from the Cobell case.

Interior spokesperson Stephanie Hannah said the department is not releasing the names of the attorneys in question but may do so sometime in the future. "At the moment, it's an internal matter with the Office of the Solicitor," she said yesterday.

Get the Filing:
Plaintiffs Call For Trial Date; Contempt (8/27)

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

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Court report criticizes trust fund software (8/10)
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Court monitor sets sights on software system (8/1)
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