Breaking News: Cobell v Salazar Settled

( – promoted by navajo)

A negotiated settlement has ended the Cobell v Salazar suit involving trust management. As reported in an earlier diary, the case stems from government management of individual Indian lands. At the end of the nineteenth century, Indians were viewed as incompetent and therefore the government managed their lands for them. This meant that the government negotiated the leases, collected the rents, and supposedly deposited the money into an account for the Indians.  Under the law, the government was acting as a trustee for the Indians. As oil, gas, minerals, and timber became important resources, the government also leased these resources to non-Indians on behalf of the Indians.

In 1996 Blackfoot banker Elouise Cobell filed a class-action suit against the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Treasury charging that Indian individual trust accounts had been mismanaged. The suit was originally designated Cobell v. Babbitt. With a change in administrations, the case later became Cobell v. Norton, then Cobell v Kempthorne and finally, Cobell v. Salazar.

Under the negotiated agreement a fund of $1.4 billion will distributed to member of the class action suit to compensate them for their historical accounting claims.

In addition, the settlement establishes a $2 billion fund for the voluntary buy-back and consolidation of fractionated land interests. The land consolidation program will provide cash payments to individual Indians and free up the land for the benefit of tribal communities. Fractionated lands resulted when individual Indians who had been allotted lands under the Dawes Act died and their intestate heirs received an equal, undivided interest in the lands as tenants in common. Over time, it became common to have hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of owners of a single parcel of land. This made use and development of the land difficult.

According to news reports:

“This is an historic, positive development for Indian country and a major step on the road to reconciliation following years of acrimonious litigation between trust beneficiaries and the United States,” Secretary Salazar said. “Resolving this issue has been a top priority of President Obama, and this administration has worked in good faith to reach a settlement that is both honorable and responsible. This historic step will allow Interior to move forward and address the educational, law enforcement, and economic development challenges we face in Indian Country.”

“Over the past thirteen years, the parties have tried to settle this case many, many times, each time unsuccessfully,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “But today we turn the page. This settlement is fair to the plaintiffs, responsible for the United States, and provides a path forward for the future.”

Cobell historical accounting trial wraps up

After just 10 full days of testimony, the trial into the Indian trust fund historical accounting concluded in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Judge James Robertson, who was assigned the case last December, called the trial in April. At the time, he said it would “continue as long as necessary,” indicating a potentially long haul that could rival prior proceedings in the 11-year-old case.

Those expectations quickly faded as Robertson, throughout the trial, urged the government and the Cobell plaintiffs to keep their presentations short and to the point. It also helped that the judge decided not to visit the Interior Department’s Indian records repository in Kansas as he earlier envisioned.

The Bush administration wants Robertson to keep his hands off the case so that the Interior Department can finish its historical accounting. The latest plan, issued in May, calls for the project to be finished by the end of 2011.

[…]

The Cobell plaintiffs want Robertson to keep a close eye on Interior. They say it’s impossible for the historical accounting to be complete due to missing records, inaccurate data and destroyed documents.

[…]

According to his earlier court order, Robertson plans to determine whether the accounting plan satisfies fiduciary trust standards and whether the accounting was “unreasonably” delayed. […]

Robertson also wants to determine whether the government has cured the breaches of trust that were first identified by Judge Royce Lamberth back in December 1999. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in February 2001.

But Robertson has said he is guided by some overarching principles that were more recently articulated by the D.C. Circuit. One ruling blocks his court from dictating the details of the government’s plans and another requires him to be mindful of the funding limits imposed by Congress.

more…
http://www.indianz.c…

Trial Transcripts:
Day
1 AM
| Day 1 PM | Day 2 AM | Day 2 PM | Day 3 AM | Day 3 PM | Day 4 AM | Day 4 PM | Day 5 AM | Day 5 PM | Day 6 AM | Day 6 PM | Day 7 AM | Day 7 PM | Day 8 AM | Day 8 PM | Day 9 AM | Day 9 PM

DOI attorney faults BIA office in Palm Springs

An Interior Department attorney who has been locked out of his office at the Bureau of Indian Affairs accused the agency on Tuesday of failing to account for millions of dollars in trust funds.

After a stint in Oklahoma, field solicitor Robert McCarthy went to work for the BIA in Palm Springs, California, over three years ago. He said he quickly learned that the agency didn’t have a way to track more than $30 million in annual lease payments owed to members of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Even when a payment was made, the BIA didn’t always pass it on to the beneficiary, McCarthy testified. In one case, the BIA kept a trust payment of $130,000 in a “special deposit account” for over 25 years because the agency didn’t know whose money it was.

Despite the apparent mismanagement, the BIA made money off of Agua Caliente landowners. “In virtually every case for virtually every type of administrative action,” the agency charged a fee for its services, McCarthy said.

For example, a fee of 1 percent was applied to every single land sale, McCarthy said. In Palm Springs — where real estate is big business — this amounted to payments to the BIA that were as high as $60,000, according to one document entered into evidence.

But federal regulations limit fees for land sales to $22.50, McCarthy said. The regulations also cap fees for leases at $500, though that apparently wasn’t followed in Palm Springs.

Similar problems were identified in a 1992 audit by the Interior Department’s Inspector General. The report recommended the BIA add a field solicitor to the Palm Springs office and develop a system to ensure Agua Caliente landowners were getting paid fair market value and that their leases were being enforced.

A computer system was purchased to track the leases, but McCarthy said he found it locked up in a back office and that it had never been used.

The situation prompted McCarthy to warn his superiors in the Solicitor’s Office, the Inspector General and eventually Jim Cason — the associate deputy secretary at DOI who was in charge of the BIA at the time — about the problems in Palm Springs. “I was kicked out of my office after I made my disclosures,” McCarthy told Judge James Robertson, who wondered why the solicitor was working from home — with pay — rather than at the BIA office.

“Everyone stopped talking to me,” McCarthy added. “I was shunned.”

And when McCarthy informed his superiors that he was going to testify in the Cobell trial, he was told he was going to be fired for allegedly disclosing confidential trust data to the media. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility group is defending McCarthy, who has filed appeals over his employment status.

more…
http://www.indianz.c…

Trial Transcripts:
Day 1 AM | Day 1 PM | Day 2 AM | Day 2 PM | Day 3 AM | Day 3 PM | Day 4 AM | Day 4 PM | Day 5 AM | Day 5 PM | Day 6 AM | Day 6 PM |Day 7 AM |Day 7 PM |Day 8 AM

Inspector General Audit:
Indian Trust Investigative Review (July 2007)

Google Map:
Agua Caliente Lands in Palm Springs

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Kempthorne – http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice – http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm

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Interior attorney set to testify in Cobell case(10/22)
Interior says Cobell suit not worth billions (10/15)
Cason wraps up testimony in trust case (10/12)
Cobell accounting trial opens in DC (10/11)
Cobell historical accounting trial starts in DC (10/10)
CFO Magazine: The Indian trust fund accounting (10/5)
Cobell historical accounting trial starts October 10 (10/1)
BIA agency lacks accounting for millions in trust (09/25)
Audit finds Indian trust management problems (9/24)
Cobell: Upcoming trial tackles important issues (09/19)
Interior attorney to testify at upcoming Cobell trial (9/18)
DOI won’t release trust data in Cobell case (9/11)
Interior attorney accused of disclosing trust data (08/29)
Judge opens electronic data to Cobell plaintiffs (07/10)
Another Cobell historical accounting hearing (7/9)
Judge expresses views on Indian trust fund accounting (06/19)
Hearing on Cobell historical accounting trial (6/18)
Cobell prepares for court battle on accounting (5/30)
Cobell prepares for historical accounting trial (5/18)
Judge prods DOI on Indian trust fund accounting (5/15)
First status conference for Cobell accounting trial (5/14)
Cobell status conference pushed back to May 14 (05/02)
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