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Cobell v Norton

April 16, 2001


Cobell Plaintiffs Welcome Unprecedented Judicial Oversight of Executive Department

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The federal judge overseeing individual Indian trust litigation today appointed a Court Monitor to provide day-to-day scrutiny of Interior Department efforts at trust reform and report directly to the Court.

The new monitor, Joseph S. Kieffer III, will be located at Interior and will file written reports of his findings for at least the next year to U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth. Lamberth is presiding over Cobell v. Norton, a class action lawsuit on behalf of 500,000 or more individual Indian trust beneficiaries.

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff, welcomed Kieffer's appointment. "We hope that this is a big step in the direction of meaningful trust reform," Cobell said. "Between the Court-appointed Special Master and now a Court-appointed Monitor, Interior is getting boxed in in a way that should finally make it harder to mislead the Court. This is a remarkable, unprecedented level of judicial oversight over the Executive Branch, which says a lot about the way the government has behaved in this case."

The Court's action followed disclosure of a Feb. 23, 2001 memo by a senior BIA official, Dominic Nessi, saying that trust reform efforts are "imploding" - a direct contradiction of positive-sounding reports of progress by Interior. Lamberth noted in open court today that his order came after a series of closed meetings with the litigants in chambers since the memo was disclosed by the Justice Department.

Today's order noted that both the plaintiffs and the government had consented to the arrangement. The Cobell plaintiffs agreed to Kieffer's appointment in lieu of bringing further contempt charges against the Interior Secretary. The plaintiffs reserved the right to do so in the future depending on the Court Monitor's reports.

The judge's order said Kieffer holds a bachelors degree in engineering, a masters degree in system management and a law degree, and has held senior positions in business and government. He also served as director of litigation for the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust, valued at more than $3 billion.

A Court-appointed Special Master, Alan L. Balaran, already oversees compliance by the Interior and Treasury departments with the judge's orders to preserve and produce documents in the Cobell litigation. Balaran recently launched an investigation of the BIA's Office of Trust Records, prompting the government to try to limit the scope of the probe and weaken future subpoenas by Balaran.

Judge Lamberth's order emphasized that Kieffer's appointment does not diminish Balaran's duties or powers in any way and directed Balaran to familiarize Kieffer "with the defendants' trust obligations and Court ordered responsibilities."

The Cobell plaintiffs won a nine-week trial in 1999 on trust reform issues. The government's appeal was rejected unanimously by a federal appeals court in February of this year.

The Court's order is posted at

See also: Court appoints monitor to oversee Indian trust reform
an article by Robert Gehrke, Associated Press, 4/16/2001.


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