FROM THE ARCHIVE

Erwin storms out of courtroom crying

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WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2002

A senior Department of Interior official who appeared to defy a court order to testify about her role in Indian trust reform stormed out of a federal courtroom in tears on Tuesday.

Donna Erwin, the acting Special Trustee, was visibly upset during a morning hearing before U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth. She had been called to court to explain why she came to Washington, D.C., despite claims that she was too busy to travel and too busy to submit to questioning about the department's reform efforts.

Lamberth said Erwin "deliberately" mislead the court about her schedule. The remarks prompted Erwin to leave the courtroom, exclaiming "I can't take it anymore."

At a hearing last Friday, a Department of Justice attorney said Erwin, who works full-time in Albuquerque, New Mexico, did not intend to come to D.C. any time soon. Yesterday, another attorney said he was never informed about Erwin's decision to attend a meeting with tribal leaders that took place on Monday and Tuesday.

But Erwin admitted in court that she made reservations to come to D.C. prior to Friday's hearing. Other top department officials, including Deputy Secretary Griles and Associate Deputy Secretary Jim Cason, were aware of her travel plans because they told tribal leaders she would attend the task force session.

As a result of her actions, Erwin is to stay in D.C. for a deposition later this week. The government tried to allow her return to Albuquerque but Lamberth said she brought the situation on herself.

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

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