Norton found in contempt for trust fund
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A federal judge today held Secretary of Interior Gale Norton in contempt of court for her handling of the Indian trust fund.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in an 267-page opinion found Norton guilty of concealing information from the court, providing false and misleading information to the court and failing to protect the assets of 500,000 American Indians. Also held in contempt was Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb, head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Norton and McCaleb, the opinion states, are "unfit to be trustee-delegates."

"The Department of Interior has truly outdone itself this time," Lamberth wrote. "The agency has indisputably proven to the court, Congress, and the individual Indian beneficiaries that it is either unwilling or unable to administer competently the IIM trust."

The decision comes after a several-month wait. Lamberth wrapped up proceedings in February after a grueling trial which delved into nearly two years of history under both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

The complexity of the issues was reflected in Lamberth's lengthy ruling. He specifically found Norton and McCaleb in contempt on four of five charges they faced.

On the first charge -- the failure to start an historical accounting of funds owed to Indian beneficiaries -- Lamberth found litigation misconduct.

The next three charges related to the failure of the Interior to provide information about the accounting and the status of a $40 million software accounting system.

The final concerned the dismal computer security protections of the Indian trust. Lamberth found that hackers can easily break into the system and steal money belonging to Indian people without leaving a trace.

Despite the slam-dunk decision, Lamberth will not appoint a court receiver to oversee the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust. But in a significant rejection of the Bush administration's position, he found that he has the constitutional authority to do so.

Lamberth also increased court oversight of the Interior, which the administration has also resisted. He increased the role of court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer, a former military intelligence specialist whom Norton wants removed from the case.

Attorneys for Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the case, were elated. They plan to ask for court fees and move forward with the landmark class action in hopes of settling the trust accounts.

"Secretary Norton and Assistant Secretary McCaleb were held to have committed a fraud on this court in numerous ways," the plaintiffs said in a statement. "Clearly, they ought not to be trusted in either administrating the IIM trust competently or reporting accurately."

John Wright, a spokesperson for the Interior said the department would comment shortly. Norton and McCaleb are currently in Arizona, scheduled to speak to Indian leaders at 9 a.m. PST for an economic development conference unrelated to the case.

Get the Decision:
Contempt Findings | Contempt Order | Appointing Special Master-Monitor | Denying Motion to Revoke Court Monitor Appointment | Setting Third Contempt Trial

Relevant Documents:
DOI Statement (9/17) | House Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah) (9/17) | House Resources Committee Ranking Member Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) (9/17) | Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.): Sec. Norton Should Be Commended For Work to Solve Indian Trust Fund Scandal (9/17)

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

Related Stories:
Your Ultimate Guide to Contempt (9/5)