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Interior Secretary Fights Contempt of Court Allegation

by Associated Press
Capital Press - February 22, 2002

WASHINGTON(AP) -- Interior Secretary Gale Norton acknowledged in court Feb. 13 that a system handling $500 million a year in royalties from Indian owned land is still flawed, but asked a judge to give her agency more time to fix it.

After five years of presiding in a lawsuit alleging the mismanagement of $10 billion in Indian money, however, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth was skeptical. He said he'd heard similar reform promises from Norton's predecessor.

"Secretary (Bruce) Babbitt sat right in that chair where you are and assured me of a great plan and all this was going to happen and none of it happened," Lamberth said. "How do I rely on what you ... are telling me now and how is it different from what Secretary Babbitt told me?"

Norton was on the stand defending herself against a contempt of court allegation for allegedly concealing the failure of key Indian accounting systems and not complying with Lamberth's order to account for how much the Indians are owed.

She said progress has been made on both fronts, but problems remain.

Dennis Gingold, the attorney for 300,000 Indians in the class action lawsuit, said Norton's promises don't change the fact that today the trust fund is in crisis, despite the Interior Department spending $614 million to fix it.

Elouise Cobell, a banker from the Blackfeet Nation, sued the Interior Department in 1996. She said Norton should be jailed as punishment for failing to fix the trust fund and Lamberth should assign someone outside the Interior Department with the expertise to fix the system.

Associated Press
Interior Secretary Fights Contempt of Court Allegation
Capital Press, February 22, 2002

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