FROM THE ARCHIVE
Norton's retaliation settlement rejected
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MARCH 7, 2001

Although she has been on the job for barely a month, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton is treading on shaky ground, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the billion dollar trust fund lawsuit against the government said on Tuesday.

And unless she or other government representatives change their ways, Norton could soon follow in the footsteps of her predecessor and face contempt of court sanctions, wrote Dennis Gingold in a letter to Phillip Brooks. Brooks is a Department of Justice lawyer defending the government in the five-year-old Cobell v. Norton lawsuit.

"Note well: no more threats and no more intimidation will be tolerated here," wrote Gingold. "We will not permit you or Secretary Norton to threaten or otherwise abuse the Cobell plaintiffs or witnesses who come forward courageously to assist the Court and the Special Master."

The subject of the Gingold's strongly worded letter is Mona Infield, a Bureau of Indian Affairs employee who has been receiving an $80,000 salary despite not having gone to work for a year. While employed at a BIA office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Infield one year ago this month criticized the government's attempt to clean up trust fund accounts affecting an estimated 300,000 American Indians at the center of the lawsuit.

Since then, the plaintiffs allege, top BIA management have repeatedly retaliated against Infield by stripping her of her duties, forcing her to work from home, and offering her jobs below her skill level as a senior computer analyst. Now, government officials are presenting Infield with a settlement offer Gingold characterizes as "a day late and a dollar short."

But while the offer may indeed have been a year in the making, the government is offering Infield considerably more than a dollar to settle her claims. In a March 2 letter, Brooks offered to pay Infield up to $100,000 in attorneys' fees and costs.

Gingold, however, says the government's offer is yet another in a long line of "transparent threats of retaliation" against Infield. If she doesn't accept the settlement by March 16, the Interior "will proceed with any personnel action it deems appropriate regarding Ms. Infield," writes Brooks.

As a result, Gingold has "categorically" rejected the government's "extraordinary threat." Instead, Gingold and his clients appear to be hinging hopes on a potential contempt of court trial against Norton and other government officials.

Such a trial was recommended by Special Master Alan Balaran last month but Judge Royce Lamberth has yet to decide if he will hold one. In an Indian Country Today quote attributed to spokesperson Stephanie Hanna on Tuesday, the Interior is prepared to offer evidence that no retaliatory actions were taken against Infield.

For now, though, Gingold is boldly proclaiming that the "culture of fear and intimidation fostered by Interior and Justice to manipulate and control Native Americans . . . is now over."

Balaran's own research may indicate otherwise, however. In a March 2 letter to the Department of Justice, Balaran says a number of Interior employees are still unaware of an anti-retaliation court order intended to protect any who come forward with information about the case.

Get Gingold's Letter:
Re: Retaliatory Action Taken Against Mona Infield by the Secretary of the Interior etal. in Violation of the Anti-Retaliation Order (Gingold: Brooks 3/6)

Relevant Links:
Trust Management Improvement Project, BIA - www.doi.gov/bia/trust/tmip.htm
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Babbitt - www.indiantrust.com

Only on Indianz.Com:
The Trust Fund Fiasco (Smoke Signals 1999)

Related Stories:
Interior to provide anti-retaliation evidence (3/6)
Mona Infield: Indian Country's Linda Tripp? (3/5)
EDITORIAL: Pay Indian account holders (The Talking Circle 3/1)
Norton hit on trust fund mess (Tribal Law 3/1)
Landmark trust fund decision upheld (Tribal Law 2/26)
Interior contempt trial recommended (Tribal Law 2/22)
Ex-employee says harassment started at top (Tribal Law 2/15)
Intimidation alleged at Interior (Tribal Law 2/14)
Norton's trust fund office to be investigated (Tribal Law 2/13)
Trust fund decision blasted (Tribal Law 1/25)
Records a continued source of problems in lawsuit (Tribal Law 01/18)
Trust documents reported destroyed (1/17)
Trust fund battle heats up (Tribal Law 12/04)
Report: Trust fund settlement killed (Tribal Law 11/20)
Treasury wants report kept secret (Tribal Law 11/03)
Congress wants settlement of trust suit (Money Matters 10/27)
US: Trust reform project behind schedule (Tribal Law 09/19)
Trust fund case back in court (Tribal Law 09/05)
COMMENTARY: The Trust Fund (The Talking Circle 09/07)
Trust fund update (Tribal Law 08/07)

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