Action against Norton urged 'on all fronts'
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Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, government attorneys and top managers at the Bureau of Indian Affairs should face criminal sanctions because they made a "deliberate attempt to conceal relevant information" about their handling of the trust fund, a court investigator told a federal judge on Sunday.

Having already recommended Norton and others be held in contempt, special master Alan Balaran is calling for more severe penalties -- including possible jail time -- because he uncovered additional facts that show the Department of Interior "failed to substantially comply" with a court order prohibiting retaliation against government employees. Despite receiving a directive from Norton's top-level trust fund official, it took BIA managers weeks, and sometimes months, to inform employees of the order, said Balaran.

Additionally, said Balaran, Norton's attorneys prepared court documents that call into question the government's trustworthiness. In support of claims that the Interior adhered to the order, attorneys submitted the declarations of a number of managers and employees of the Office of Trust Fund Records (OTR), which is charged with preserving documents that date back more than one hundred years.

But attorneys did so "in a fashion which omitted all particulars," Balaran discovered. They knowingly and consciously drafted documents which show OTR manager Kenneth Rossman did not live up to his duty to disseminate the anti-retaliation order, concluded Balaran.

"In short, if counsel’s argument that OTR (and, thus, Interior) complied with the Anti-Reprisal Order had merit, there would have been no need to craft a declaration which concealed the very information which would have illustrated this compliance," wrote Balaran in a 15-page opinion filed late yesterday.

Balaran's recommendation to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth comes as the government and the plaintiffs in the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit prepare for a status conference. Lamberth has scheduled the update for tomorrow, and a number of issues have been at the top of the agenda for months.

But due to a busy working schedule, Lamberth has yet to decide whether Norton and others should be held in contempt for alleged retaliation against Interior employees. A number of high-profile incidences of alleged intimidation have occurred within the past two years -- charges Balaran found substantial enough to recommend contempt proceedings and to issue a February order ensuring that employees could come forward without fear of losing their jobs, being harassed or assigned to different duties.

And even though the cases in question did not happen under Norton's watch, the government has fared no better under her leadership, Balaran found. In some instances, it took Rossman and BIA managers more than two months to distribute the special order, said Balaran, all while Norton was pledging to make trust reform a "top priority."

For these, and other reasons -- including four reports highly critical of trust reform -- the Cobell plaintiffs have asked Lamberth not only to place Norton and 38 government representatives in contempt but to remove them of their trust fund duties altogether. Court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III, the author of the reports, should be appointed as received, they have argued.

Due to the lateness of yesterday's filing, Indianz.Com was unable to seek comment from the Department of Interior.

Previously, Lamberth in February 1999 held former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover in contempt for not complying with court orders.

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Relevant Links:
Office of the Special Trustee -
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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