FROM THE ARCHIVE
Judge holds secret trust fund hearing
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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2001

The federal judge overseeing the individual Indian trust fund held a private hearing on Wednesday to discuss critical computer security issues at the Department of Interior.

According to a court order filed on the same day, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth held the secret session with two Department of Justice attorneys who are part of Secretary Gale Norton's defense team. The attorneys, Sandra P. Spooner and John T. Stemplewicz, are from Justice's civil division and are responsible for arguing Norton's opposition to a trust fund receiver and other related issues.

Noticeably absent were representatives from the U.S. Attorneys office in Washington, D.C. The office is defending Norton from contempt charges.

Also not present were attorneys for the class action Cobell v. Norton lawsuit.

What was said during the secret, one-sided hearing is not known. Lamberth had the session recorded but has temporarily filed the transcript under seal, indicating he may make it public soon.

But according to Wednesday's order, several issues were discussed, all related to computer security. They were:
  • Norton's desire to file certain parts of report prepared by EDS Corporation, a consulting firm she paid nearly $3 million to assess trust reform, under seal. These parts would discuss security of not only the individual trust but also tribal ones.
  • Norton's opposition to the publication of an investigation into computer security by special master Alan Balaran. He finalized a report earlier this month, which Lamberth temporarily placed under seal, again indicating he may make it public.
  • Norton's request to speak with a third-party contractor about security issues raised by Balaran.
  • Norton's opposition to a temporary restraining order being proposed by the Cobell plaintiffs. The plaintiffs filed the request under seal in response to Balaran's report.
Lamberth has ordered the Interior to file its oppositions by next Wednesday, November 28. At this time, he will give the plaintiffs an opportunity to present their views.

A key part of the fixing the trust fund involves placing tribal and individual trust account information on an Internet-like network known as the Trust Fund Accounting System (TFAS). The Interior converted approximately 1,400 tribal and 300,000 individual accounts to TFAS more than two years ago.

Together, the trusts represent about $3.1 billion in assets gained from oil, gas, timber and other natural resource leasing on tribally-owned and individually-owned Indian lands.

The Department of Interior had no immediate comment on the judge's latest actions.

Relevant Links:
Office of the Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov
Trust Management Improvement Project - http://www.doi.gov/bia/trust/tmip.htm
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

Related Stories:
Trust fund security document filed (11/14)
Interior holding back security reports (6/29)

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