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Day three of Norton contempt trial concludes

The contempt trial of Secretary of Interior Gale Norton reached a milestone today as attorneys representing 300,000 American Indian beneficiaries finished reviewing the first contested report of court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III.

After three days of rigorous, detailed and occasionally tedious testimony, attorney Dennis Gingold and first witness Tommy Thompson, the second highest-ranking trust official at the Department of Interior, rumbled through the last of Norton's objections to the report. The document covers the Clinton and Bush administration's failure to move forward an accounting of funds owed to Indian beneficiaries, including the adoption of a statistical sampling plan despite several officials and senior managers not knowing exactly what the project entailed.

Oddly enough, though, it was Kieffer's investigation into the matter that led Norton to dropped a statistical sampling plan in favor of a full, historical accounting, Thompson testified. He said he understood the Bush administration changed course on or about May 15, just one month after Kieffer was appointed by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to watch over the department.

Norton then created the Office of Historical Trust Accounting to carry out what Lamberth ordered the Interior to do in December 1999. She created the office on July 10.

Testimony today was peppered with several comments and questions by Lamberth. At one point, he said that Norton's top aide, Sue Ellen Wooldridge, was "acting in contempt" of his court for approving a statistical sampling without considering alternatives or conducting additional research into the idea.

At another point, Lamberth chuckled in amusement at the Department of Justice's failed litigation tactics. Thompson testified that certain government attorneys believed an appeals court would overturn or limit the December 1999 ruling, so a full accounting "without regard to when the funds were deposited" wouldn't have to be done.

"In the backdrop," said Thompson of the attorneys, "was a heavy reliance that, on appeal, the Interior would be sustained. They were clearly betting on that decision."

"They were wrong," responded Lamberth.

"Yes, indeed," said Thompson.

"They put all their eggs in one basket," Lamberth said.

"Yup," responded Thompson.

Testimony resumes tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., after a consideration of Internet-related issues at the department and their impact on Indian Country. Attorneys for the plaintiffs also indicated yesterday evening that they may shift around their witness list.

An offer by Mark Nagle, chief of the civil division at the U.S. Attorneys office in Washington, D.C., to try and cut down the government's objections to the Kieffer reports bore no fruit yesterday.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Confusion, conflict detailed at Interior (12/12)
Exclusive: Trust reform assessment (12/12)
Attorneys barred from BITAM consultation (12/12)
EDS trust reform report online (12/12)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 2 (12/12)
Editorial: Still ripping off Indians (12/12)

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

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