Interior takes lawyers off trust fund
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The Department of Interior's top legal official has barred two attorneys from working on the trust fund, citing recent court reports critical of their handling of the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit.

Solicitor Bill Myers last week approved the recusal of Timothy S. Eliot and Edith R. Blackwell from working on matters related to the lawsuit and the High-Level Implementation Plan, the government's three-year-old guide to trust reform. Additionally, Eliot has been removed from the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust -- representing the accounts of an estimated 300,000 American Indians throughout the country -- altogether.

Both, however, are allowed to discuss Indian trust "in a historical context," according to documents signed by Myers. Both should also "cooperate" with the federal court overseeing the Cobell lawsuit, the documents state.

The recusal of Eliot and Blackwell comes as Myers has requested the Interior conduct an internal probe of his own staff, who have been implicated in a wide-range of alleged wrongdoing. From the continued destruction of e-mail against court orders to a statistical sampling plan uncovered as a fraud, the Office of the Solicitor has been under scrutiny in recent months.

Yet the pair are but a few court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III and special master Alan Balaran say have participated in an effort to hide the true -- and, in many cases, failing -- status of trust reform. Eliot and Blackwell were recused for an effort to "eliminate or change" court-mandated reports, a charge also laid against Bureau of Indian Affairs Deputy Commissioner Sharon Blackwell.

Like the pair, other Interior officials have been cited for preventing "open and honest communication" with the court overseeing the lawsuit. No direct action has yet been taken against employees outside of the Solicitor's office.

Despite the recusals, Interior spokesperson Stephanie Hanna said they were expected. "This does not prove anybody is guilty of anything," she added, saying "there are plenty of other duties [Eliot and Blackwell] can be effective on."

Dennis Gingold, a lawyer representing the Cobell plaintiffs, believes the Interior needs to cast a wider net for actions of officials and senior management. "There are a lot more people . . . who have been implicated" for misleading the court, he said.

A third, unnamed lawyer had been targeted by Myers in a letter he sent to internal investigators last month.

The Interior has yet to submit its seventh court-mandated report on trust reform. It was due earlier this month but the government hasn't turned it in to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth.

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

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