Your Ultimate Guide to Trust Fund Contempt
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It's been months since the Bush administration's contempt trial wrapped up that it might be hard for some to remember what the fuss is all about.

After all, Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles has been running interference through the trust reform task force, which seems to meet a lot but doesn't seem to get much resolved. Last week's jaunt to Alaska brought everyone no closer to an independent commission that National Congress of American Indians President Tex Hall predicted might never come.

"It's an old Indian trick to engage," Kevin Gover, who was held in contempt for his handling of the affair, opined recently.

And those fiduciary standards? Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) warned tribal leaders not to get too excited about seeing them enacted into law. Not exactly assuring words when the Supreme Court is around the corner.

As for Secretary Gale Norton, she's practically disappeared from radar. The last time she publicly spoke about trust was back in June.

But things are going to heat up really soon now, according to the plaintiffs in the case. So much so that Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff, arrives in Washington, D.C., today in anticipation of a ruling.

The Judge
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth for the District of Columbia presides over the case. He's also handling several tribal trust disputes, much to the dismay of the Bush administration.

The Charges
There are five specific charges at the center of the trial. Two relate to the failed historical accounting of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust, two more to the broken $40 million Trust Asset and Accounting Management System (TAAMS) and the final to the lack of computer security for Indian funds.

Additional background can be found at: Norton set for contempt trial (December 10, 2001).

The Contemnors
Only Secretary Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb were called to trial. Norton is the trustee-delegate and McCaleb has been delegated certain trust duties.

The contempt status of 50 other government representatives has not been resolved.

The Trial
The trial started December 10, 2001, and ended February 21, 2002. The primary witness for the plaintiffs was Tommy Thompson, the number two trust reform official who was passed over as Special Trustee when Tom Slonaker, who also testified, was ousted from that position.

Daryl White of the Interior also testified for the plaintiffs and was later reassigned to a lesser position. He eventually retired. Tex Hall testified on the effects of the computer problems on Indian Country.

Norton was forced to testify on February 13 about her involvement which -- according to her -- was limited to a layperson's standpoint. She agreed to a statistical sampling of the IIM trust but said she didn't understand its full implications because she was not an accountant. She couldn't explain fully the TAAMS problems because she said she was not a computer expert. She also testified she became aware of the security problems only through press reports.

The government's most interesting witness was Dom Nessi, the first project manager for TAAMS and the first chief information officer for Indian affairs. He agreed that TAAMS failed and noted that most short-term Indian leases are not recorded by the Interior.

McCaleb did not testify. Apart from leading the task force, his involvement in trust has not been extensive, so much so that he asked to be excused from the contempt trial altogether.

The Evidence
Most of the evidence in the case comes from reports by two court officials: court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III and special master Alan Balaran. The trial was used to back up the reports.

Kieffer's reports focused on the historical accounting and TAAMS. Norton has since asked for his dismissal from the case.

Balaran investigation into the lack of computer security was made public on December 4, 2001. Lamberth in court once said the report alone is enough to hold Norton and McCaleb in contempt.

The Ruling
The ruling, when it comes out, could be similar the one issued against the Clinton administration. In February 1999, Lamberth held then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and then-Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Gover in contempt for not producing trust fund records.

A copy of that ruling can be found at

The Punishment
Being held in contempt is a life-long blemish and can lead to a variety of sanctions. Lamberth in 1999 imposed fines on the government but this time around the plaintiffs are asking for jail time for Norton and McCaleb.

Plaintiffs' attorney Dennis Gingold, during a recent talk to the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, said he would seek to have Norton barred from legal practice in Colorado, where she served as attorney general.

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