The plaintiffs in the Cobell trust fund lawsuit
a federal appeals court on Tuesday to speed up review of the long-running case.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals
already agreed to hear
a challenge to a judge's decision to award $455.6 million to Indian beneficiaries whose trust assets are being
mismanaged by the federal government. But oral arguments have not been scheduled and the plaintiffs
want a quick resolution to prevent further harm.
"This case implicates matters of life and health because many beneficiaries depend entirely on their trust fund disbursements to purchase food for themselves and their families,"
the motion to expedite stated.
Nearly eight years ago, the D.C. Circuit held that the
departments were in breach of trust
to Indian beneficiaries. The court said hundreds and thousands
of landowners are entitled to an accounting of their funds.
After some failed starts, the Bush administration
approved a plan to spend an estimated $271 million
to fulfill its fiduciary duties
but Judge James Robertson
in January ruled that a true
accounting was "impossible" due to limits imposed on
the project and budget restraints. He held an evidentiary hearing
in June to determine how much money, if any,
is owed to the plaintiffs.
In August, Robertson arrived at $455.6 million -- a figure
far lower than the billions of dollars the plaintiffs proposed
in court filings.
The appeal to the D.C. Circuit will determine whether the
amount was correct. The plaintiffs also want to
resolve other legal issues that could affect the final dollar
The D.C. Circuit also will be asked to overturn the judgment
filed its own appeal, claiming
that Robertson lacked jurisdiction to award any type of
money to account holders. The government contends
dollar issues belong in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims
Since the lawsuit was filed in June 1996, the D.C. Circuit
has heard appeals of the case at least five times.
Nearly every ruling was resolved in favor of the
government, although the landmark accounting decision
Though the Clinton administration was not receptive
to the case, hostilities between the plaintiffs
and the government grew during the Bush administration.
Officials even went after Judge Royce Lamberth, the
original judge on the case,
resulting in his removal from the proceedings.
The latest appeal comes amid major change in Washington, D.C.
With Barack Obama
coming on board in January, a new leadership team at the
Interior Department could change course in its handling of
the case and of the trust relationship in general.
, a member of the Cherokee Nation
who has been on the case since 1996, was Obama's top Indian
adviser during the presidential campaign. He is now
part of Obama's transition team at Interior.
for Expedited Appeal and Argument
(December 9, 2008)
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