FROM THE ARCHIVE

Judge rejects campaign against trust oversight

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TUESDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2002

A federal judge on Monday ordered the Bush administration to pay legal fees to a court investigator whose reports were used to help find Secretary of Interior Gale Norton of contempt.

In a harshly worded decision, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth called on the government to end its campaign of retaliation against his court. He criticized Norton, her aides and their attorneys for attacking Joseph S. Kieffer III, a former military intelligence officer who has served as court monitor in the Individual Indian Money (IIM) case.

"The court monitor's reports, after all, have proved embarrassing to defendants, documenting as they do their many falsehoods and attempts to mislead this court," Lamberth wrote in the seven-page order. "But it is time for such behavior to end."

The ruling is the latest to support Kieffer's continued oversight role. In April 2001, Norton welcomed him to the Department of Interior and said his appointment was a positive development in trust reform.

But that view changed once Kieffer outlined the department's failures to obey court orders and provide timely information to the court. Eight reports documented ongoing problems with trust reform.

So in June, Norton's top aides lashed out against Kieffer in a series of controversial court declarations. Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles, Associate Deputy Secretary Jim Cason and Ross Swimmer, a former Indian affairs official brought in last fall to help fix the broken system, accused the court monitor of trying to bully them.

Lamberth has since rejected the attempt to kick Kieffer off the case. He also said Griles displayed "an alarming lack of candor [that] comes perilously close to perjury" by trying to smear the court.

The dispute isn't likely to end, however. After holding Norton and Indian affairs aide Neal McCaleb in contempt on September 17, Lamberth elevated Kieffer to the position of "court monitor-master."

The Bush administration, through the White House Office of Management and Budget, has supported legislation to limit Kieffer's compensation and that of special master Alan Balaran, another court official. The House passed the bill in July but the Senate version doesn't contain the restriction.

According to court documents, Kieffer is owed as much as $2 million for his services. Norton had agreed to his $125-an-hour fee but has balked at paying him.

"This court can only respond that the devil himself may quote scripture to his purpose," Lamberth wrote.

In a related development, Kieffer issued two new reports affecting the case. He recommended to the court that attorneys representing 500,000 Indian account holders be allowed to interview Griles, Cason and Swimmer about their role in trust reform.

"These three Department of Interior officials are the key sources for determining just what the present status of trust reform, where it is going, and who they are relying on," Kieffer wrote on Friday.

On the other hand, Kieffer recommended that the plaintiffs not be allowed to question White House and Department of Justice attorneys involved in the alleged coverup of Congressional testimony. "They have little or no knowledge of or responsibility for trust reform," he said.

In another report, Kieffer yesterday recommended the court reject Norton's attempt to circumvent a court order that protects the privacy of Indian account holders. He said a prior ruling by Lamberth settled the issue.

Finally, Kieffer in a letter cautioned Norton from seeking to interview, under oath, the five named plaintiffs in the Cobell suit. He said he would issue a report on the matter soon.

Relevant Documents:
Order to Pay Fees (9/30) | Kieffer on Privacy (9/30) | Kieffer on Named Plaintiffs (9/30) | Kieffer on Griles, et. al. (9/27)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Trust Reform, NCAI - http://www.ncai.org/main/pages/
issues/other_issues/trust_reform.asp

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