FROM THE ARCHIVE

Fees awarded in trust fund litigation

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THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2002

The federal judge overseeing the Indian trust fund debacle has awarded more than $120,000 in fees to the Cobell plaintiffs for frivolous motions filed by the federal government.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said the money was due for two "unmeritorious" attempts by government lawyers to argue issues that he already decided or that were irrelevant. In a March 29 order, he said the motions were "groundless."

In response, attorneys representing 500,000 individual Indian beneficiaries asked for $409,038.82 in fees. Included was compensation for lead counsel Dennis Gingold that attorneys for Secretary of Interior Gale Norton opposed as excessive.

But Lamberth said "Gingold has successfully demonstrated that the reduced rate he charges plaintiffs is attributable to 'public spiritedness,'" and was entitled to recover money for his work on behalf of the Indian plaintiffs. The order was accompanied by a separate decision rejecting Norton's "nonsensical" attack on Gingold for allegedly misleading the court about his fees.

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff, spoke at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) on Tuesday and addressed what she said were unfounded rumors about the cost of the case. She has raised more than $8 million to fund the litigation, none of which has come from tribes or other Indian sources.

"I haven't paid the lawyers in four years," she added, responding to remarks by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), who a day earlier claimed that attorneys involved in the case were making millions.

In total, Lamberth awarded $125,484.87 to four members of the Cobell legal team, including Keith Harper and Lorna Babby of the Native American Rights Fund.

Relevant Documents:
Memorandum and Opinion: Awarding Attorney's Fees (11/12) | Order : Awarding Attorney's Fees (11/12) | Memorandum and Order: Norton's 'nonsensical' argument (11/12)

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

Related Stories:
Government punished for stonewalling on trust fund (04/01)