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Cobell v Norton
March 15, 2001


Plaintiffs: Investigation by Court-Appointed Special Master Is "Imperative"

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sixteen Federal Reserve Banks and branches, including the New York Fed, have reported continued destruction of Indian trust account documents, in violation of a federal judge's orders and despite repeated assurances by Justice Department lawyers that the destruction would stop.

In court papers filed late yesterday, Indian plaintiffs said the ongoing destruction means that an investigation by Court-appointed Special Master Alan Balaran, which the plaintiffs requested Feb. 20, is now "imperative" and that the plaintiffs have "no confidence" in what government lawyers are telling the Court about efforts to preserve the records.

Document destruction in recent weeks has been reported to Balaran by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Kansas City Fed's branch in Denver, the San Francisco Fed and its branches in Seattle, Salt Lake City, Portland and Los Angeles, the Fed in Minneapolis and its branch in Helena, the Richmond, Va. Fed and its Charlotte branch, the Atlanta Fed's branch in New Orleans, the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia, the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas and its El Paso branch, and the Cleveland Fed's Pittsburgh branch.

The plaintiffs noted in yesterday's filing that the New York Fed has retained outside counsel to handle the document destruction issue. Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, along with then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, were found in contempt by U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth in February 1999 for ignoring the judge's document-production orders.

Justice Department lawyers have claimed that the recently destroyed trust records are either not relevant to the Court case or that duplicate data exists elsewhere. "These pro forma claims of irrelevance seem to be lifted verbatim from the proverbial Justice Department Cobell Litigation Handbook, which one can only assume provides instructions to its attorneys as follows: (1) Deny; (2) Deflect, and finally (3) Defend vigorously all claims of innocence regardless of or despite the merits," the plaintiffs' filing said.

"Plaintiffs cannot rely on the representations concerning the preservation of [Indian trust] related documents because the [Treasury] Secretary and his counsel have repeatedly made wholly unsupported claims and misleading representations to this Court," the plaintiffs said.

"The plaintiffs' skepticism is founded not on the lengthy and repeated reporting of their destruction but rather on the chronic failure of defendants and their counsel to disclose candidly the full scope, nature and extent and relevance of the destruction."

The Court case, Cobell v. Norton, is a class action lawsuit filed to force the Interior and Treasury departments to clean up more than a century of gross mismanagement of individual Indian trust accounts. A ruling by Judge Lamberth that the government is in breach of its fiduciary obligations to the Indian trust beneficiaries was upheld last month by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

The plaintiffs' filing is available at, under Latest Information. To read the Feb. 20, 2001 motion for an investigation by the Special Master, click on Case Documents.


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