Secretary Norton is cited for contempt in Indian trust case

Secretary Norton is cited for contempt in Indian trust case

A federal judge yesterday found Interior secretary Gale Norton and assistant secretary for Indian affairs Neal McCaleb in contempt of court for failing to fix systems that manage trust fund accounts for American Indians.

Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charged the two government officials with four counts of fraud against the court and one count of litigation misconduct. The ruling came in the long-running case of Cobell v. Norton.

Last December, Lamberth ordered the Interior Department to disconnect nearly all its systems from the Internet because of security flaws that put the trust funds in jeopardy [see www.gcn.com/vol1_no1/daily-updates/17636-1.html]. Some department systems closely related to trust accounting remain disconnected from the Internet, although Interior has been gradually restoring Net services with the approval of a court-appointed security reviewer.

Lamberth last week ruled that the Interior officials had acted “disgracefully” by failing to fix the flawed accounting systems or submit honest reports about efforts to build the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System and conduct a data cleanup project at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The department scored a minor victory in the 267-page decision: Lamberth decided not to sever any additional department systems from the Internet, as the plaintiffs in the case had requested.

Lamberth said his decision resulted from associate deputy secretary James Cason’s efforts to work closely and cooperatively with the court to resolve systems issues.

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