Trust fund judge considering sanctions for 'attack'
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A Department of Interior manager who was reassigned to a top-level position in Washington, D.C., after a court official questioned his role in trust reform may be punished for his personal "attacks," a federal judge has said.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth last week signed a court order deflecting arguments advanced by Kenneth Rossman and his attorney, whose fees are in part being paid by the federal government. Rossman was former director of the Office of Trust Records (OTR), which is charged with managing documents related to the administration of the Indian trust.

As part of a probe by a court investigator, Rossman was criticized for claiming to have made progress fixing the broken system. In a report issued last winter, special master Alan Balaran blasted the OTR for not being able to document successes which were touted in court-ordered quarterly reports.

But before that happened, Balaran had trouble getting his investigation off the ground. He announced in February 2001 his intent to look into the office and was met with objections raised by Secretary Gale Norton's defense team during the first few months of the Bush administration. Also, he delayed action to allow Rossman and other OTR managers to hire their own private counsel, which the government pays up to $125 an hour.

Yet even after the opposition was rejected, Rossman attempted to scuttle Balaran's work. Several months later, his tactics have drawn criticism from Lamberth.

"Ad hominem attacks on the special master will not be tolerated," Lamberth wrote in the order dated March 29. "The court has complete confidence in the special master's abilities to perform his duties in this case."

Additionally, Lamberth in the order said he would consider imposing sanctions for the transgression. Attorneys representing 300,000 Indian beneficiaries last fall asked the court to impose punishment for Rossman's "desperate and otherwise nonsensical efforts."

Keith Harper, the Native American Rights Fund attorney on the case, said he expects a ruling on the motion soon. Lamberth last week punished the government for its own delay tactics.

Coinciding with Balaran's first investigative report on the OTR, Special Trustee Tom Slonaker in late November 2001 removed Rossman from his position and assigned him to a "temporary" post in Washington, D.C. "[Rossman's] experience as an operations manager in OST and his familiarity with many aspects of trust reform make him a valuable addition," a memo signed by Slonaker and provided to Indianz.Com stated.

Rossman's role in another part of trust reform has also drawn criticism. In a separate opinion, Balaran recommended the government be punished for a "deliberate attempt to conceal relevant information" related to a court order preventing retaliation against Interior employees.

Specifically, Balaran charged that the order was not properly disseminated by Balaran and that government attorneys tried to cover-up his failures. Lamberth might impose more fees in this instance as well.

Related Documents:
Order on 'Attacks' (3/29) | Investigative Report (11/29) | Opinion Recommending Sanctions (10/28) | Request for Sanctions (10/1) | Opinion Rejecting Limits on Subpoenas (8/28) | Opinion Rejecting Limits on Investigation (7/23)

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

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