Judge wants Interior secretary to testify on Indian trust fund

A federal judge has told Interior Secretary Gale Norton to appear in court to defend her agency's actions in a lawsuit brought by a group of Native Americans seeking lost royalties from a trust fund.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth wrote in his order that providing personal testimony is the only way Norton could convince him that she did not retaliate against Native Americans in October by halting payments from a federal trust fund.

In October, Lamberth concluded that Norton acted as if the Bureau of Indian Affairs had to cut off all contact with Native Americans regarding the trust fund, including withholding checks to beneficiaries, in response to a September order stopping the sale of Indian land.

"What is clear is that the secretary, in a fit of pique and perhaps anger at both the court and the plaintiffs for the issuance of the Sept. 29 order, simply retaliated against the Indian beneficiaries under the thin disguise of a preposterous and facially false 'interpretation' of the court's order," Lamberth wrote in October.

In his new order, Lamberth wrote, "the only evidence that might persuade the court to reassess its determination about the secretary's actions following the Oct. 1 status conference would be direct evidence of the secretary's intent. Such evidence, of course, can only be provided by the secretary herself."

Norton's spokesman, Dan DuBray, would not say whether Norton would appear in court, stating that a response will be made "to the judge in the venue of the court, not the media." He said Norton has taken "great steps" in light of the Lamberth's order to make sure checks were delivered.

Interior has 10 days from the Feb. 7 order to respond to Lamberth's invitation for Norton to testify. The Justice Department has asked Lamberth to reconsider his conclusion that Norton retaliated against Indian beneficiaries.

The judge's request that Norton testify is the latest development in an eight-year-old lawsuit, Cobell v. Norton, brought by Native American groups. The suit involves funds paid to Interior by groups using Indian lands for oil, gas and mineral mining. BIAis supposed to distribute the money to Native Americans through trust accounts. Native American groups contend that the money has not been properly managed and they are owed billions of dollars in damages.

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the suit, which involves more than 500,000 trust beneficiaries, said if Norton does not testify, "we'll know the truth" about her involvement in stopping the checks.

The lawsuit has resulted in unusual developments, including a hired hacker's discovery that Indian trust data and account information held in Interior computers were subject to manipulation, resulting in Lamberth's order to sever Interior's Internet connection, which a higher court ruled in error.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.