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Trust fund monitor accused of prejudice
MONDAY, JUNE 17, 2002

Last Updated: 5:10 EDT p.m.

On the eve of her appearance at a tribal convention, attorneys for Secretary of Interior Gale Norton accused the Indian trust fund monitor of overstepping his boundaries and asked a federal judge to dismiss him.

"It is with great reluctance that the Interior defendants request that this court revoke the appointment of Joseph S. Kieffer III, as court monitor," the attorneys wrote.

Citing a highly charged discussion with department officials and his presence at meetings of a joint federal-tribal task force on trust reform, Norton's legal team said Kieffer lacked "impartiality." In court papers, they accused him of trying to meddle in the department's decision-making process.

"Because it is clear from his actions that the court monitor does not recognize and will not adhere to limits on this court's jurisdiction, and because his actions threaten public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of our court system," the Interior defendants respectfully request that the court revoke the appointment," a brief dated June 14 stated.

Norton's legal team filed a separate brief contesting Kieffer's legal fees. The department is to pay him at a rate of $250 an hour but challenged his May 1 through May 31 bill of $54,307.34.

But in an ironic twist, the department wants Kieffer to provide a more thorough accounting of his actions although it has not yet done the same for 300,000 American Indian beneficiaries. Norton's attorneys demanded a detailed report so they could object to some of his fees.

The Bush administration's actions brought a swift rebuke from the attorneys handling the case on behalf of the Indian plaintiffs. Keith Harper of the Native American Rights Fund said the attack was not surprising. "There are no bounds to their arrogance," he said.

"We think this is a prelude for going after the court," he said, referring to U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth. "They have seen that this court has acted courageously and independently to uncover their malfeasance and to require the Secretary, after 100 years, to no longer abuse trust beneficiaries."

Norton's filing was made in advance of a national consultation session on trust reform she is hosting in North Dakota tomorrow evening. She will hear from tribal leaders and Indian beneficiaries on their views of the progress made to correct more than a century of fiduciary mismanagement.

One of her top aides, Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles, was given a cool reception when he discussed the work last week. On the nationally broadcast radio program Native America Calling on Friday, callers said the government couldn't be relied upon to fix itself.

"I'm not interested in organizing because nothing's going to change," said Myrna Youngbear, a resident of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, to a proposed restructuring of the Interior.

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Trust Reform, NCAI -