Trust fund case back in court
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The fight to reform the trust system is back in court today, as the federal government is appealing a decision which requires them to be more accountable to hundreds of thousands of Native Americans.

In December of 1999, US District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that the Department of Interior and the Department of Treasury report an accurate balance of some 300,000 Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders. He placed himself as overseer of the process, requiring the government to provide quarterly reports on its progress.

Government lawyers say Lamberth erred in making those decisions.

At the time, Lamberth also rejected a motion proposed by the plaintiffs, led by Elouise Cobell, Blackfeet Nation of Montana, to remove the entire system from the hands of the government, who have been unable to account for most of the money held by Indian account holders. Lamberth said the government should have five years to prove itself.

Its been nearly that amount of time since Congress first passed the Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act in 1994. But according to government testimony, rulings from the court, as well as the allegations of the plaintiffs, not much has been done since then to improve the system.

As part of the act, Paul Homan was appointed special trustee in charge of carrying out the reform process. But according to Homan and others, he was prevented from doing his job by government officials, as well as never receiving adequate funds from Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt to try and fix the system.

The plaintiffs have recently alleged new charges reminiscent of Homan's uphill battle. In a motion filed in court, they say the Bureau of Indian Affairs retaliated against an employee who objected to moving the Bureau's trust fund computer center from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Washington, DC.

New charges of contempt are also being laid against Babbitt and Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover. Babbitt, Gover, and then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin were found to be in contempt of court in February.

Get recent trust fund rulings:
Opinion: Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law (US District Court 12/99) - History of the case up to December.
Memorandum and Order (US District Court 12/99) - Lamberth denies plaintiff's motion to remove system from government.
Recommendation & Report of the Special Master (US District Court 12/99) - Reviews history of contempt charges and document destruction by the Department of Treasury.

Related Stories:
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 -
Financial Management - BIA's Tribal Trust Fund Account Reconciliation Results, GAO Report
Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians -

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