Norton appeals trust fund contempt decision
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The Bush administration is appealing a federal judge's decision that found Secretary of Interior Gale Norton in contempt for her handling of the Indian trust fund.

Department of Justice attorneys filed a one-page notice of appeal after hours last night. The notice doesn't state on what grounds the decision will be challenged.

"Any comment I would make about the filing would be in the filing," said Department of Interior spokesperson Dan DuBray, who declined to elaborate.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth on September 17 found Norton and Indian affairs aide Neal McCaleb in contempt for misleading his court about efforts to fix the broken trust. He said the Bush officials were unfit to be trustee-delegates.

Norton subsequently said she would fight the ruling. She said it was based on events that didn't happen under her watch.

"We believe it is appropriate to seek an appeal," she said on September 17, "and so we will be exploring the opportunities for doing so."

The move marks the second time the federal government has challenged Lamberth. After he ordered the Interior to account for funds owed to 500,000 American Indians, the Clinton administration appealed.

In February 2001, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed Lamberth. Norton later decided not to ask the Supreme Court to review the case.

It is not clear whether the appeal will delay the next phase of the Cobell lawsuit, and DuBray would not speculate. By January 6, the Interior and the plaintiffs are submitting plans to administer the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust.

The department is under intense pressure to develop the plan without incurring the wrath of tribal leaders. The last time Norton unveiled a trust reform proposal, it was unanimously opposed in Indian Country.

Attorneys representing the Indian account holders received the notice this morning. Keith Harper of the Native American Rights Fund said he was not surprised, given the government's record in the six-year litigation.

In February 1999, Lamberth held the Clinton administration in contempt for failing to produce records associated with the case. He fined then-Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of Treasury Paul Rubin and Indian affairs assistant secretary Kevin Gover more than $600,000, an amount that was paid by taxpayers.

Relevant Documents:
Notice of Appeal (November 18, 2002)

Get the Contempt Decision:
Contempt Findings (September 17, 2002) | Contempt Order (September 17, 2002

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

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