FROM THE ARCHIVE
Lamberth slams claimed accounting
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MONDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2002

A federal judge today blasted the Bush administration for mailing trust fund statements to members of an Arizona tribe without court approval.

In a 20-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said he didn't have a problem with the government contacting Indian beneficiaries. But what he found objectionable was a Department of Interior policy -- approved by Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles without any public comment or tribal consultation -- that terminated the rights of the account holders to a full historical review of their funds.

"The court is thus at an utter loss to understand why defendants thought this court would consider it acceptable for them to include language that extinguishes the very rights that are at the heart of this class action litigation without prior consultation with the court," Lamberth wrote.

Saying the incident "deserves punishment," Lamberth referred a slew of government attorneys to a disciplinary panel for possible punishment. "In the face of such misconduct, it would be an act of negligence for this court to stand idly by," he said.

The Department of Justice attorneys identified by Lamberth include: Robert D. McCallum, Stuart E. Schiffer, J. Christopher Kohn, Sandra P. Spooner, John T. Stemplewicz, and Cynthia L. Alexander. Others who assisted in sending out the mailings could also be referred.

The referral of McCallum, who currently serves as an assistant attorney general, for discipline could impact his pending nomination as associate attorney general at DOJ. He was promoted by President Bush earlier this month but the Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to hold a confirmation hearing.

In a separate ruling issued today, Lamberth rejected the government's attempt to shield top Interior officials from testifying about their trust responsibilities. Citing an attorney-client privilege, Spooner last month ahd stopped a deposition of Associate Deputy Jim Cason to prevent him from answering such questions.

But Lamberth said there was a "fiduciary exception" to the privilege. "Defendants have made no showing that the information sought in response to the question posed to Mr. Cason relates solely to non-fiduciary matters," he wrote. "Therefore, the court finds that the information sought by the question is not protected under the attorney-client privilege."

Get the Decision:
Disciplinary Ruling | Fiduciary Exception Ruling

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

Related Stories:
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Cobell litigation moves into second phase (11/13)
Tribes opposing trust fund settlement bill (11/13)
Bill offers 'extinguishment' of trust fund claims (11/06)
Bush strategy assumes no trust mismanagement (11/05)
Court challenges move to 'extinguish' rights (11/04)
Let court review trust fund accounts (10/11)
Judge rejects Norton's 'absurd' accounting claim (09/23)
White House embroiled in trust fund mess (07/31)
Feathers ruffled in and out of Indian Country (07/31)
Bush urged to settle Indian trust fund dispute (07/24)
Trust debate centers on budget (7/19)
House clears DOI budget bill (7/18)
Debate rages on Interior bill (7/17)
White House approved DOI spending bill (7/17)
Objections on trust fund ignored (7/16)
House trust fund bill opposed (7/15)
Griles slammed for ignorance (7/12)
Norton delivers accounting plan (7/5)
Norton's accounting funds limited (6/28)
Deadline nears for trust fund accounting plan (5/7)
Interior rebuffed on historical accounting (4/24)
Bush administration bets on accounting (3/18)
Interior considering a limited trust fund (3/15)
Norton: No 'dollar amount' on trust fund mess (3/14)
Trust fund accounting tests federal judge (3/13)
Norton withdrawing accounting arguments (2/20)
McCaleb: Without settlement, accounting a 'guess' (02/19)
Norton says accounting complete for plaintiffs (2/14)
GAO: Full reconciliation impossible (2/8)

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