Feds seek new judge in Indian trust case

Government lawyers have requested a new judge in a nine-year class-action lawsuit over the Interior Department’s failure to protect data from hackers.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth has presided over the case, which challenges Interior's oversight of Indian trust funds.

But last week, Justice Department lawyers filed a motion with an appeals court for reassignment to a different judge, citing inappropriate vitriol in the judge’s July 12 ruling.

Government lawyers decided to request a new judge after Lamberth said, “Perhaps Interior’s past and present leaders have been evil people, deriving their pleasure from inflicting harm on society’s most vulnerable.… The government as a whole may be inherently incapable of serving as an adequate fiduciary because of some structural flaw. Perhaps the Indians were doomed the moment the first European set foot on American soil."

“The district court began, after a gratuitous reference to ‘murder, dispossession, forced marches, assimilationist policy programs and other incidents of cultural genocide against the Indians,’ by pronouncing 'our modern Interior Department to be a dinosaur – the morally and culturally oblivious hand-me-down of a disgracefully racist and imperialist government that should have been buried a century ago, the last pathetic outpost of the indifference and Anglo-centrism we thought we had left behind,’” the government's motion states.

Government lawyers also complained about Lamberth’s description of one of its pleadings as more disrespectful than “countless pleadings from clinically insane litigants and prison inmates.”

In closing, “the district court threatened to declare that Interior has repudiated the Indian trust, appoint a receiver to liquidate the trust assets and finally relieve the Indians of the heavy yoke of government stewardship,” government lawyers said in their motion to change judges.

Lawyers for the Indian plaintiffs said they would resist the government's efforts to remove Lamberth.

"The government's problem is not the judge,” Dennis Gingold, lead attorney for the trust, said in a press statement. “Judge Lamberth, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, has been repeatedly upheld by the court of appeals on every merit issue in this case. The government's problem is the district court making them account for 100-plus years of bad facts, its pattern of unethical behavior and its persistent strategy of diversion, delay and obstruction -- of which this is only the most recent example."

Agency officials took the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Web sites off-line for two months this spring after Interior’s inspector general issued a report warning that the agency’s information technology systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks.

In 2001, Lamberth ordered Interior to disable Internet connections on all computers that could be used to access trust fund data. He ordered two subsequent shutdowns, although Internet access has returned to the department following a federal appeals court ruling that blocked Lamberth’s latest order.

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