Judge urged to reject Norton who cried 'wolf'
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Secretary of Interior Gale Norton should not be given a chance to fix a system she is incapable of correcting, attorneys for 300,000 American Indians have told a federal judge.

Charging that pledges to reorganize the failing Indian trust are another in a long line of broken promises, attorneys for the Individual Indian Money (IIM) beneficiaries whose $500 million in annual assets are at stake want Norton held in contempt for failing to discharge some of her most basic duties. In a lengthy document filed in federal court, they urged U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to sanction her and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb for inaction dating back to the Clinton administration.

"No reform has occurred," the attorneys wrote. "Nothing has changed."

"So instead they cry 'wolf' and continue to promise 'this time reform will occur'; 'this time we will follow court orders'; 'this time we will not deceive this Court,'" they continued.

The only way out, the plaintiffs then insist, is to have the IIM trust placed into receivership. Citing trial testimony from some of the government's own witnesses, including former trust reform project manager Dom Nessi and current department official Bob Lamb, and numerous court documents, they said all signs point to additional judicial oversight.

At issue are five charges levied against the Bush administration in the long-running IIM class action. They include a failure to account for the funds owed to Indian beneficiaries, false and misleading reporting on the progress of trust reform and lack of information technology security measures.

Hoping to stem off fines and potential jail time, attorneys for Norton have agreed court orders have not been obeyed. At the same time, they told Lamberth that no fraud has been committed upon his court.

Norton herself has asked for one final stab at reform. She testified last month and admitted there were still many unanswered questions about her attempt to reorganize how her department manages individual- and tribal-owned trusts.

But with Norton now backing away from her plan to appease tribal leaders who want more time to come up with their own solution, the stage appears set for a finding of contempt. The Bush administration would be tarnished just by the computer security charge alone, of which Lamberth has indicated she is all but guilty.

Whether he will go one step further and take away the IIM trust is an open question. While attorneys for the plaintiffs and tribal leaders believe a receiver would kill the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM) once and for all, the appointment of a receiver is, as Lamberth has acknowledged, unprecedented.

Plaintiffs' attorney Dennis Gingold said he believes a ruling will be handed down by the end of the month. He said he expects the Bush administration to be fined "millions of dollars" for the months of inactivity.

Get the Filing:
Proposed Findings and Conclusions of Law

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Trust Reform, NCAI -

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