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Cobell headed to resolution in appeals court
Friday, August 29, 2008
Filed Under: Cobell

A federal judge on Thursday said he will issue a final order in the Indian trust fund case by the end of next week so the Cobell plaintiffs can pursue an appeal.

Judge James Robertson agreed that resolution of the appeal could affect the final amount owed to Indian beneficiaries. So rather than start a process to distribute the money, he said he would wait to hear from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"What the plaintiffs are most concerned about is the amount had too few zeroes than they wanted," Robertson said of his August 7 decision to award $455.6 million to the plaintiffs.

Led by Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana, the plaintiffs contend they are owed much more for the federal government's failure to account for their trust funds. They had asked for up to $46 billion during a trial held in June.

The Bush administration, on the other hand, disputed owing any money to hundreds of thousands of Indian beneficiaries. But the $455.6 million was close to an amount the DDepartment of Justice conceded during final days of the trial.

The Cobell plaintiffs now hope to address a slew of issues that might affect the bottom line, said attorney Dennis Gingold. Included is whether account holders are owed some form of interest for the failure to account.

"We believe it will be more efficient ... for issues to be resolved by the court of appeals," Gingold said during a hearing yesterday afternoon.

The Bush administration hasn't decided whether to appeal the case, government attorney Michael Quinn said. But he raised a number of issues that he said need to be resolved in order to distribute any money that is owed to Indian beneficiaries.

Robertson reiterated that his $455.6 million figure does not address any potential damages claims that aren't addressed by the Cobell case. He said his goal since being assigned the 12-year-old lawsuit has been simple.

"My primary concern about this case was getting it done and getting it over with," Robertson.

Robertson again questioned whether the case could be settled without further court proceedings. Some "off line" talks have occurred, Quinn said yesterday, but no details were revealed.

The Bush administration told Congress it would pay $3.5 billion to resolve the historical account and any potential damages claims. But the government also asked for its liability to be terminated for all future claims.

Historical Accounting Decision:
Cobell v. Kempthorne (August 7, 2008)

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