FROM THE ARCHIVE
Judge urged to reject Norton who cried 'wolf'
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TUESDAY, MARCH 5, 2002

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton should not be given a chance to fix a system she is incapable of correcting, attorneys for 300,000 American Indians have told a federal judge.

Charging that pledges to reorganize the failing Indian trust are another in a long line of broken promises, attorneys for the Individual Indian Money (IIM) beneficiaries whose $500 million in annual assets are at stake want Norton held in contempt for failing to discharge some of her most basic duties. In a lengthy document filed in federal court, they urged U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to sanction her and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb for inaction dating back to the Clinton administration.

"No reform has occurred," the attorneys wrote. "Nothing has changed."

"So instead they cry 'wolf' and continue to promise 'this time reform will occur'; 'this time we will follow court orders'; 'this time we will not deceive this Court,'" they continued.

The only way out, the plaintiffs then insist, is to have the IIM trust placed into receivership. Citing trial testimony from some of the government's own witnesses, including former trust reform project manager Dom Nessi and current department official Bob Lamb, and numerous court documents, they said all signs point to additional judicial oversight.

At issue are five charges levied against the Bush administration in the long-running IIM class action. They include a failure to account for the funds owed to Indian beneficiaries, false and misleading reporting on the progress of trust reform and lack of information technology security measures.

Hoping to stem off fines and potential jail time, attorneys for Norton have agreed court orders have not been obeyed. At the same time, they told Lamberth that no fraud has been committed upon his court.

Norton herself has asked for one final stab at reform. She testified last month and admitted there were still many unanswered questions about her attempt to reorganize how her department manages individual- and tribal-owned trusts.

But with Norton now backing away from her plan to appease tribal leaders who want more time to come up with their own solution, the stage appears set for a finding of contempt. The Bush administration would be tarnished just by the computer security charge alone, of which Lamberth has indicated she is all but guilty.

Whether he will go one step further and take away the IIM trust is an open question. While attorneys for the plaintiffs and tribal leaders believe a receiver would kill the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM) once and for all, the appointment of a receiver is, as Lamberth has acknowledged, unprecedented.

Plaintiffs' attorney Dennis Gingold said he believes a ruling will be handed down by the end of the month. He said he expects the Bush administration to be fined "millions of dollars" for the months of inactivity.

Get the Filing:
Proposed Findings and Conclusions of Law

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Trust Reform, NCAI - http://130.94.214.68/main/pages/
issues/other_issues/trust_reform.asp

Related Stories:
Norton trial closes with arguments (2/22)
Judge mulls contempt finding (2/25)
Defense on security charge lacking (2/22)
Closing arguments wrap up trial (2/22)
Judge says 'duped' by government (2/21)
Judge blasts Interior 'deception' (2/21)
NCAI President testifies on shutdown (2/21)
Contempt testimony concludes (2/20)
Norton dropping Clinton policy (2/20)
McCaleb talks trust with Sam (2/19)
Norton recounts shaky year in trust (2/15)
Norton tries to convince judge on trust reform (2/14)
Norton says plaintiffs' accounting complete (2/14)
Griles has hope on contempt (2/13)
Norton concludes testimony (2/13)
Norton takes the stand in contempt (2/13)
Norton agrees to testify (2/12)
Norton set for trial testimony (2/12)
Trust fund mess blamed on Babbitt (2/11)
Norton ordered to testify (2/8)
Trust system takes center stage in contempt (2/1)
Federal judge resuming Norton contempt trial (1/31)
Norton effort 'too little, too late' for judge (1/16)
Interior official denies trust fund 'conspiracy' (1/15)
Witness testifies against software corruption (1/15)
Dom Nessi expected as Norton witness (1/14)
Norton launches contempt defense (1/11)
Cobell plaintiffs rest case (1/10)
End in sight for Norton contempt trial (1/10)
Top trust official lacks 'confidence' in reform (1/9)
Babbitt, others dropped as witnesses (1/9)
Trial resumes with trust testimony (1/7)
Contempt trial resumes in federal court (1/4)
Cobell: Justice for Indian Country (12/24)
Contempt trial breaking for Christmas (12/21)
IIM checks being delayed at Interior (12/21)
Interior can't find proof of corruption (12/21)
Tribal leaders blast Norton proposal (12/21)
Reports crucial to Norton contempt (12/21)
TAAMS failure traced to first manager (12/20)
TAAMS: The Titanic Failure (12/20)
Judge questions role in trust fund 'circus' (12/20)
Norton drops objections to court monitor (12/20)
TAAMS: The Titanic Failure (12/20)
Judge questions role in trust fund 'circus' (12/20)
TAAMS failure traced to promoted manager (12/20)
Ruling on court monitor put off (12/20)
Norton ordered to submit trust fund report (12/18)
Judge rebuffs Norton challenge (12/17)
Week two of trial continues today (12/17)
History of neglect drives trust case (12/17)
Judge eager for Norton testimony (12/13)
Editorial: Bad faith, wasted dollars (12/13)
Confusion, conflict detailed at Interior (12/12)
Exclusive: Trust reform assessment (12/12)
Lamberth pokes fun at government (12/12)
EDS trust reform report online (12/12)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 2 (12/12)
Contempt trial continues (12/11)
Contested reports focus of contempt trial (12/11)
The Trial: Witnesses to Contempt (12/11)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 1 (12/11)
Norton contempt trial opens (12/10)
Norton attacks court monitor (12/10)
Norton set for contempt trial (12/10)

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