Court says government must produce trust documents
The federal government can't raise the attorney-client privilege to prevent the release of Indian trust documents, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled at the end of the year.

The Jicarilla Apache Nation of New Mexico won a court order that required the Interior Department to produce a wide range of documents related to the management of tribal trust assets. Some of the documents were communications with DOI's Office of the Solicitor.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims applied the fiduciary exception to most of the documents. The government appealed but the Federal Circuit sided with the tribe.

"The United States’ relationship with the Indian tribes is sufficiently similar to a private trust to justify applying the fiduciary exception. Therefore, we hold that the United States cannot deny an Indian tribe’s request to discover communications between the United States and its attorneys based on the attorney-client privilege when those communications concern management of an Indian trust and the United States has not claimed that the government or its attorneys considered a specific competing interest in those communications," the Federal Circuit wrote.

An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible.

Get the Story:
Order to Produce Tribal Trust Records Upheld (Courthouse News Service 1/12)

Federal Circuit Decision:
In Re United States (December 30, 2009)