Indians win full accounting

Department of Interior

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U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth today ordered the federal government to complete a full historical accounting of all assets held in the Indian trust fund since 1887.

Lamberth ruled that the Interior Department should complete the accounting by 2007. He rejected the department's proposal to limit the accounting to accounts that were open nine years ago when Congress passed major trust reform legislation.

As the latest development in the seven-year case of Cobell vs. Norton, Lamberth's decision is seen as a setback for the federal government and Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

"This is a landmark victory," said Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the case. "It is now clear that trust law and trust standards fully govern the management of the Individual Indian Trust, and that Secretary Norton can no longer ignore the trust duties that she owes to 500,000 individual Indian Trust beneficiaries."

Lamberth indicated that he plans to appoint a judicial monitor to oversee the government's accounting duties. The monitor will be granted unlimited access to Interior's records.

The judge ruled that Interior must comply within the proposed timetable, or the court will remove the Interior secretary as trustee-delegate and appoint a receiver.

Interior should complete the accounting for per capita and judgment accounts by September 2004, accounting for land-based accounts by 2006 and all special deposit accounts by 2007.

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