After just 10 full days of testimony, the trial into the Indian trust fund historical accounting concluded in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
Judge James Robertson, who was assigned the case last December, called the trial in April. At the time, he said it would "continue as long as necessary," indicating a potentially long haul that could rival prior proceedings in the 11-year-old case.
Those expectations quickly faded as Robertson, throughout the trial, urged the government and the Cobell plaintiffs to keep their presentations short and to the point. It also helped that the judge decided not to visit the Interior Department's Indian records repository in Kansas as
he earlier envisioned.
The speedy pace appeared to surprise both parties. Earlier this week, the Cobell team -- after presenting their first witness on Monday -- predicted the trial would end by Thursday or Friday.
The government and the plaintiffs now have until November 30 to present their final arguments. But just what Robertson will do next is anybody's guess.
"He's so hard to read," a visitor to the courtroom said earlier this week.
The Bush administration wants Robertson to keep his hands off the case so that the Interior Department can finish its historical accounting. The latest plan, issued in May, calls for the project to be finished by the end of 2011.
Jim Cason, the associate deputy secretary at Interior who was the government's primary witness, testified that the "2007 plan is a continuation of the work that we have already accomplished, and the 2007 plan is a road map of the activities that we plan to undertake to finish this job."
The Cobell plaintiffs want Robertson to keep a close eye on Interior. They say it's impossible for the historical accounting to be complete due to missing records, inaccurate data and destroyed documents.
"What that means is that the accounting balances cannot be confirmed," Paul Homan, a banker who was the very first Special Trustee for American Indians, testified.
According to his earlier court order, Robertson plans to determine whether the accounting plan satisfies fiduciary trust standards and whether the accounting was "unreasonably" delayed.
He has been concerned about the limits and exclusions the Bush administration has placed on the project.
"This trial is about the adequacy of the accounting," Robertson reiterated this week.
Robertson also wants to determine whether the government has cured the breaches of trust that were first identified by Judge Royce Lamberth back in December 1999. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in February 2001.
But Robertson has said he is guided by some overarching principles that were more recently articulated by the D.C. Circuit. One ruling blocks his court from dictating the details of the government's plans and another requires him to be mindful of the funding limits imposed by Congress.
Day 8 PM
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Trial Order:Cobell v. Kempthorne
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Kempthorne - http://www.indiantrust.com
v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm
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