Judge asked to reconsider trust fund ruling
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DECEMBER 4, 2000

On Friday, the plaintiffs representing about 500,000 Indian trust account holders asked a federal judge to reconsider a ruling which gave the government one last chance to fix the mismanaged system.

"It is now evident that the glowing descriptions of trust reform efforts supposedly under way which were presented at the trial were gravely misleading," said the plaintiffs led by Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet Nation of Montana banker. "It is equally clear that no real trust reform is being accomplished."

Alleging lack of progress, the lawyers asked Judge Royce C. Lamberth on Friday to appoint a special master to oversee trust reforms. Special masters are often used to conduct fact-finding missions, resolve differences among parties, and to make recommendations to judges.

In 1999, the court used a special master to investigate claims of destruction of documents pertaining Indian trust, or Individual Indian Money (IIM), accounts. The master reported that employees of the Department of Treasury shredded 162 boxes of documents, an action lawyers for the government attempted to conceal.

But despite the findings and a ruling which stated that "it would be difficult to find a more historically mismanaged federal program than the Individual Indian Money trust," Lamberth denied a move by the plaintiffs to remove the system from the hands of the government. In December of 1999, he said the government had five more years to prove it could reform the system.

As part of its reform process, Lamberth ordered the government to provide quarterly status reports. Cobell and the other plaintiffs say these reports unfairly praise the government.

"Through those reports, and those are public information, we find out a lot," said Cobell. "We find out that some of the statements that they [the government] made while they were in trial were not really accurate."

A report issued by the General Accounting Office (GAO) in September appears to confirm some of Cobell's sentiments. The report said that while the government has taken steps to improve the software which manages the accounts, there are still challenges which put the project at "considerable" risk.

Meanwhile, the government is seeking to have its workload reduced and have asked to Lamberth to rule that the government is only required to keep track of IIM account transactions since 1951.

Only on Indianz.Com:
The Trust Fund Fiasco (Smoke Signals 1999)

Related Stories:
Report: Trust fund settlement killed (Tribal Law 11/20)
Treasury wants report kept secret (Tribal Law 11/03)
Congress wants settlement of trust suit (Money Matters 10/27)
US: Trust reform project behind schedule (Tribal Law 09/19)
Trust fund case back in court (Tribal Law 09/05)
COMMENTARY: The Trust Fund (The Talking Circle 09/07)
Trust fund update (Tribal Law 08/07)

Relevant Links:
US District Court, District of Columbia -
Trust Management Improvement Project, BIA -
The Native American Rights Fund -
Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians -