Norton drops objections amid threat from judge
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Faced with a threat of a full-blown "circus," attorneys for Secretary of Interior Gale Norton on Thursday dropped their objections to a series of scathing court reports that have formed the basis for her contempt trial underway in federal court.

Bringing a temporary halt to the proceedings on their ninth day, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Nagle made the surprise offer after U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth threatened to call in 39 present and former government officials, attorneys and senior management to testify before a court investigator. Worried about the pact of the trial, Lamberth said he was considering the harsh move because of the government's challenges.

But after "extensive discussion" on the issue, Nagle said those depositions weren't necessary. And perhaps, neither were any more live witnesses, he said, as he agreed to accept the reports of court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III without question.

Lamberth did so, taking into evidence the five documents Kieffer has authored since he was appointed to his post in April. But he also agreed to allow attorneys representing 300,000 American Indian beneficiaries to call additional witnesses in order to form a "cumulative" record on five contempt charges.

Those witnesses include:
  • Daryl White, the Chief Information Officer
  • John Snyder, an employee of White
  • Tom Slonaker, the Special Trustee for American Indians
  • Bruce Babbitt, former Secretary of Interior
  • Anne Shields, former Chief of Staff to Babbitt
  • David Shuey, a Department of Justice attorney
  • Ed Cohen, former Interior Solicitor
The plaintiffs aren't planning on calling Secretary Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb or other Bush administration officials. Norton and McCaleb, however, are the government's witness list and may be called as rebuttal witnesses by the plaintiffs.

With the court monitor reports now in evidence and with the government objecting only to a series of handwritten documents identified as belonging to White, the contempt trial would now appear to be on a fast track to completion. Attorneys the plaintiffs have been promising to finish their examination of Tommy Thompson but have been unable to do so thus far.

Thompson, the second-in-command to the Special Trustee, returned to the stand yesterday and testified that he agreed generally with the conclusions of the third and fourth monitor reports. In particular, he told Lamberth why his boss objected to a court-mandated quarterly status update because "nothing changed" for the past six months.

But Thompson indicated he supported the Bush administration's controversial reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Starting in late October, he said there has been some "progress" to address the leadership and management issues raised by his boss.

"We are not there yet," he said. "There are issues about implementation of some of those changes."

"The baby steps are starting," he added. "The Secretary is going forward with an organizational concept. Exactly how it will be restructured is still open to consultation, discussion and further staff work."

Thompson is set to return to the stand today for one final round of questions, said attorneys for the plaintiffs. The government would then be finally able to cross-examine him.

Lamberth, however, is shutting down proceedings for the holiday. He won't return to the bench until January 4, 2002, he said.

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

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