U.S. to Pay $3.4 Billion in American Indian Trust Saga

The federal government has agreed to pay $1.4 billion in damages and set up a $2 billion fund for American Indians who claimed the U.S. mismanaged trust accounts from Indian land that date to the 19th Century.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/09/us/09tribes.html?_r=1&hpw

The settlement caps a 13-year litigation saga that spanned three presidencies, seven trials covering 192 trial days, 22 published judicial opinions, and 10 federal appeals court hearings, according to the New York Times. Federal Judge Royce C. Lamberth found two secretaries of the interior in contempt for their handling of the lawsuit before the Bush administration complained of bias in 2006, and he was removed from the case. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0204.mencimer.html

Washington, D.C. Judge James Robertson http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/robertson-bio.html has handled the case since.

The Interior Department manages about 56 million acres of Indian trust land, parts of which are leased for mining, livestock grazing, timber harvesting and oil and gas drilling. It then distributes the revenue raised by those leases to the American Indians. In the 2009 fiscal year, the Interior Department collected about $298 million for more than 384,000 individual Indian accounts.

The settlement is a huge victory for Keith Harper of Kilpatrick Stockton, which reportedly has spent more than $20 million on the case. http://www.law.com/jsp/tal/digestTAL.jsp?id=1202436181268&src=EMC-Email&et=editorial&bu=The%20American%20Lawyer&pt=Am%20Law%20Litigation%20Daily&cn=AmLaw_LitigationDaily_20091209&kw=more&hbxlogin=1

Harper http://www.kilpatrickstockton.com/attorneys/detail.aspx?ID=13797 has worked on Corbell v. Kempthorne since he joined Kilpatrick in 1994 from the Native American Rights Fund http://www.narf.org/. The ABA published Harper’s article from Human Rights Magazine, “Cobell v. Norton: Redressing a Century of Malfeasance.” http://www.abanet.org/irr/hr/spring06/harper.html

Among many others working on the case were longtime Lawdragon 500 member David Hayes of the Interior Department http://www.doi.gov/bio/hayes_bio.html, Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_J._Perrelli (formerly of Jenner & Block) and sole practitioner Dennis Gingold. Mark Levy, the well-respected former appellate head at Kilpatrick who killed himself in April, had also done significant work on the case.

The Wikipedia article on the case is here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobell_v._Salazar.

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