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#51 Jan-07-2010 12:05:am

bls926
Administrator
From: Texas
Registered: Oct-21-2006
Posts: 12082

Re: Cobell historical accounting trial

Congress gets more time to act on Cobell settlement
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Filed Under: Cobell

February 28 is the new deadline for Congress to take action on the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement.

The Cobell plaintiffs and the Department of Justice agreed to an extension after Congress failed to take action by December 31.

The settlement provides $1.4 billion for the plaintiffs and other trust beneficiaries. It establishes a $2 billion program to buy fractionated interests from willing landowners.

Get the Story:
Cobell Settlement Deadline Extended (The Blog of Legal Times 12/29)
http://legaltimes.typepad.com/blt/2009/ … ended.html

Blackfeet woman's battle for trust settlement long, pitched (The Great Falls Tribune 1/3)
http://www.greatfallstribune.com/articl … 1/1030301/

http://64.38.12.138/News/2010/017884.asp

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#52 Feb-01-2010 10:16:pm

bls926
Administrator
From: Texas
Registered: Oct-21-2006
Posts: 12082

Re: Cobell historical accounting trial

Perrelli, Cobell Lawyer Hopeful Congress Will Meet Deadline
By Ryan J. Reilly | January 29, 2010

A top Justice Department official and a lawyer representing hundreds of thousands of Native Americans in a long-running class action lawsuit say they are hopeful that Congress will be able to pass the required legislation to move the settlement forward before next month’s deadline.

The parties announced on Dec. 8 that they had reached a settlement in Cobell v. Salazar, in which the Interior Department was accused of  mishandling funds in Indian trust funds which belong to individual Native Americans.

One of the largest class actions ever filed against the U.S. government, it was originally filed in 1996, by Elouise Cobell on behalf of more than 300,000 Native Americans holding individual Indian money accounts. In the waning days of 2009, both parties agreed to extend the year-end deadline for final resolution of the settlement to Feb. 28, 2010.

“We’re certainly hopeful that we will get passage of that,” Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli told Main Justice on Thursday. “I don’t have any specifics. But we remain hopeful that it’s going to get passed.”

Keith Harper, a Kilpatrick Stockton lawyer representing Cobell, told Main Justice that he is “still cautiously optimistic despite the gridlock on Capitol Hill.” Harper said his firm continues to work on figuring out ways to notify the plaintiffs so that they will be “ready to go” when the legislation is passed.

“The holdup doesn’t have anything to do with our particular legislation,” said Harper. “A lot is happening on the Hill, but I don’t have a sense of any serious opposition. Both sides have been supportive of this resolution.”

Asked about the possibility of extending the Feb. 28 deadline, Harper said they would “cross that bridge when we get to it.”

‘There are a lot of moving parts, but both sides agree that this is the right thing to do,” said Harper. “Whether we can continue to extend the deadline is another question, but right now all energies are focused and we’re feeling very good.”

http://www.mainjustice.com/2010/01/29/p … -deadline/

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#53 Feb-22-2010 11:16:pm

bls926
Administrator
From: Texas
Registered: Oct-21-2006
Posts: 12082

Re: Cobell historical accounting trial

Elouise Cobell answers questions about settlement
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Filed Under: Cobell

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit, will be answering questions about the proposed settlement to the case. Cobell is a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana.

As many of you know, on December 7, 2009, we signed a settlement agreement with the government which marked the first step toward resolving the long running Cobell class action lawsuit. Since that time, I've been asked hundreds of questions about the case and the settlement agreement. I can't answer every question in one letter, but I am committed to writing an open Ask Elouise letter every week answering many of your important questions. If you have a question, send an e-mail to: askelouise@cobellsettlement.com, or send a letter to:
Ask Elouise
Cobell Settlement
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Q: When will I receive my funds?
It depends on when Congress passes legislation implementing the settlement and it is finally approved by the courts. The settlement agreement provides that the first payments should begin shortly after final approval and will continue for at least six months pursuant to Court order. I know many of you are concerned that it may take years to receive your share. That isn't true. We have designed a formula to ensure that won't occur.

Q: When will the settlement be finally approved?
After legislation is passed, the district court will schedule a hearing to consider the settlement and decide whether to grant Preliminary Approval of the settlement. At that point, there will be a 2 - 3 month period where notice will be provided to class members after which a Fairness Hearing will be held so that the Court can hear any objections to the settlement. If the judge deems the settlement fair, then he will issue an order of Final Approval. The court of appeals may then consider any appeal from class members. If there is no appeal, payments should begin sixty days following Final Approval. If the court of appeals accepts an appeal, payments could be substantially delayed.

Q: When will Congress pass legislation approving the settlement
I don't know when Congress will pass legislation. The parties agreed to extend the settlement agreement to February 28, 2010. I'm hopeful that legislation will be passed by then, but it might not happen. If it does not happen, I'll consult with our attorneys about our options.

Q: How much will the attorneys be paid?
The Court will determine attorneys' fees, but the attorneys have signed a separate agreement with the government agreeing to not ask for more than $99.9 million. This is less than 3% of the settlement funds - a very low percentage for attorneys in class action lawsuits. Consider that attorneys representing tribes under Indian Claims Commission Act generally received 10% as mandated by statute and attorneys involved in suits related to Enron received 9.5% (almost $700 million). Many medical malpractice attorneys receive over 30%; and, the tobacco attorneys received billions of dollars and very few did more than file a complaint in order to immediately negotiate a settlement. Most cases don't even involve discovery, let alone go to trial, but our attorneys have prosecuted seven major trials in this case, litigated countless appeals, filed thousands of papers and reviewed tens of millions of pages of discovery without receiving due compensation for their services. I fully support the fee application. It is in fact unusually low for attorneys involved in complex, heavily litigated class action lawsuits. Frankly, I am concerned that if the legal fees for our attorneys are unreasonably low that will discourage competent lawyers from future representation of Native Americans in class action litigation against the government. It is also important to recognize that members of the class will have an opportunity to inform the Judge if they oppose the fee award.

Q: How much will the named plaintiffs receive?
The Court will also determine amounts to be paid to the named plaintiffs for their time and costs, also called "incentive payments." This case was funded in large measure by the Blackfeet Reservation Development Fund (BRDF), a grass roots community development organization which assists Indian communities understand their trust assets. I have also given a significant amount of money to the case out of my personal funds. Funds were used to pay for experts, class communications and costs related to the prosecution of this case. During settlement negotiations, we estimated that these costs were in the range of $15 million. To date, very few of BRDF's costs have been reimbursed and I have never been reimbursed for funds that I've contributed to the prosecution of this case. No tribe has ever given money for this case.

In future Ask Elouise letters, I'll answer questions about how much you can expect to receive if the settlement is finally approved as well as questions related to the damages class included in the settlement agreement. Thank you for your commitment and patience during this long and difficult process.

http://64.38.12.138/News/2010/018426.asp

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#54 Feb-22-2010 11:21:pm

bls926
Administrator
From: Texas
Registered: Oct-21-2006
Posts: 12082

Re: Cobell historical accounting trial

Elouise Cobell answers questions about settlement
Monday, February 22, 2010
Filed Under: Cobell

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit, will be answering questions about the proposed settlement to the case. Cobell is a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana.

This is the second in a series of open letters I’m sending to Indian Country to answer your very important questions about the settlement of the Cobell class action lawsuit. Prior Ask Elouise letters can be found on the settlement website: http://cobellsettlement.com/class/ask_elouise.php.

We also have a “frequently asked questions” section to answer many of the most common questions we’ve received. http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php. I can’t answer every question, but I will try to answer as many as I can every week.

Why must the settlement approval process occur so quickly?
Time is of the essence. If settlement is not approved in the short term, there is a very real possibility the settlement will fail and the parties will return to active litigation. First, Congress must ratify the settlement agreement before the Court can act to preliminarily approve it. In this election year, further delay will create a more challenging political environment for enactment of the necessary implementing legislation. Congress is a body made up of diverse and varied views and not all have an interest in a successful resolution of this case. Further delay will increase the likelihood that our allies on Capitol Hill focus their attention on other matters. Secondly, the Supreme Court has granted an extension of the time for the parties to submit briefing in connection with its review of the Court of Appeals decision that limits the accounting duty to “low hanging fruit.” It is unlikely that further extensions will be granted by the Supreme Court and further cou rt activity is likely to kill the settlement.

Shouldn’t you and the attorneys be traveling more to Indian Country to explain the settlement?
We have spent some time traveling around Indian Country to discuss the settlement, answer your questions and listen to your concerns, but not enough. The problem with traveling around Indian Country to explain the settlement is that it has not received preliminary approval by the Court. What this means is that there is a chance that the Court or Congress could decide to alter or modify the settlement and any information we might share with Indian Country could change, requiring that we make the same trips twice – we can’t afford to be wasteful with our limited resources. In addition, any changes to the settlement agreement by the Court or Congress may result in the settlement being abandoned by either party. Once the settlement has received preliminary approval from the Court, we will undertake an extensive notice process, including tra vel to Indian Country, to notify class members of the settlement and educate you about your rights and obligations under the agreement.

How will I know if I’m included in the settlement?
You will be included in the settlement if you had an IIM account open at anytime between approximately 1985 and September 30, 2009, or you had an individual interest in land held in trust or restricted status by the U.S. government as of September 30, 2009. Certain heirs to deceased class members may be included, as well. I recognize that many individuals have particular circumstances that might make it unclear whether they are included. A process for individuals to self-identify and apply for inclusion in the class will be developed if the settlement is approved. At this stage, the most important thing you can do is to register to ensure that we have a valid address to send you important information. If you are not receiving a quarterly IIM statement, then there is a chance that the government does not have a current address for you and you should register.

How do I register to receive settlement communications?
You can register over the phone or Internet.
Internet: https://cert.tgcginc.com/iim/register.php
Telephone: 1-800-961-6109

How did we get from plaintiffs’ calculation of almost $40 billion a few years ago to $1.4 billion today?
The $1.4 billion settlement fund for the accounting claims was the product of negotiations between the parties and is, in my estimation, a fair resolution for plaintiffs’ accounting, restitution and damages claims after considering the risk associated with further litigation, the refusal of the Court of Appeals to order the government to provide a full accounting of all funds, and the absence of any time limit for final judgment in this case. It has long been plaintiffs’ position that more than that is due. But what matters is what is recoverable in Court. The litigation could continue another decade or more with no assurance that we will prevail on the merits. Other factors could not be quantified, including the deaths of tens of thousands of beneficiaries since the filing of this case. Those class members will never see th e resolution of this case and the prospect of another ten years of litigation means that thousands more will be denied their rights too. It is important to also consider that the district court limited the award following the 2008 trial to only $455.6 million for plaintiffs’ accounting claims – significantly less than the almost $40 billion plaintiffs had requested.

As I indicated in my last Ask Elouise letter, in future letters I’ll answer questions about how much you can expect to receive if the settlement is finally approved as well as questions related to the damages class included in the settlement agreement.

If you have a question, send an e-mail to: askelouise@cobellsettlement.com.

Otherwise you can send me a letter to the address below. To expedite the processing of your letters our contractor has set up a post office box in Ohio, but I assure you this letter is coming from me and I will see your letters.

Ask Elouise
Cobell Settlement
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Thank you for your commitment and patience during this long and difficult process.

http://64.38.12.138/News/2010/018504.asp

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#55 Sep-30-2010 11:32:pm

bls926
Administrator
From: Texas
Registered: Oct-21-2006
Posts: 12082

Re: Cobell historical accounting trial

Republican opposition stalls vote on Cobell settlement in Senate
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Filed Under: Cobell

The Senate failed to action action on the $3.4 billion settlement to the Indian trust fund lawsuit after Republicans objected.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, was responsible for the latest roadblock. He raised concerns about the $1.4 billion settlement for African-American farmers, which was grouped with Cobell as part of a unanimous consent request.

“Senator Coburn is the just the latest face of what appears to be an intentional effort by Republicans to deny justice to black farmers and Native American trust account holders. Their opposition is a transparent sham," an aide to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), the Senate majority leader, said in a statement.

"Every time we are close to a bipartisan agreement that would disburse court-approved settlements to these Americans who were denied earnings they deserve due to discrimination and mismanagement, Republicans yank the rug from under them by conjuring up a new reason to object," the statement continued. "If Republicans are fundamentally opposed to ending this injustice for black farmers and Native American trust account holders, they should at least have the courage to say so and stop playing games with this critical issue.”

The Cobell plaintiffs and the Obama administration had set an October 15 deadline to wait for Congressional approval.

Get the Story:
Reid aide assails GOP on 'injustice' (Politico 9/29)
No vote from US Senate on Indian trust settlement (AP 9/29)

http://64.38.12.138/News/2010/021888.asp

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#56 Sep-30-2010 11:35:pm

bls926
Administrator
From: Texas
Registered: Oct-21-2006
Posts: 12082

Re: Cobell historical accounting trial

Elouise Cobell statement on lack of Senate vote for settlement
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Filed Under: Cobell

The following statement was released by Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit.

I know I speak for all of Indian Country when I say that we are greatly disappointed that the Senate leadership decided not to bring the settlement of our lawsuit over the government's broken Indian Trust to a promised vote on the Senate floor.

We are convinced that a vast majority of senators supported the settlement we reached with the Justice and Interior Departments in December. We believed we had won the support of conservatives by making certain that our settlement was fully funded and would not be adding to the national debt.

Even our critics stated it is time to end our lawsuit which is more than 14 years old.

Our settlement agreement expires Oct. 15 and no decisions have been made as to whether we should continue to press for the Senate's approval of our agreement in the lame-duck session or return to court and resume our lawsuit.

We would like to thank Senate Indian Affairs Chairman Bryon Dorgan of North Dakota for his continuing support of the settlement and his statement today that he would work for passage of the settlement in the lame-duck session.

We would also like to thank Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Jon Kyle of Arizona, John Thune of South Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Max Baucus and John Tester of Montana.

http://64.38.12.138/News/2010/021889.asp

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#57 Oct-05-2010 11:04:pm

bls926
Administrator
From: Texas
Registered: Oct-21-2006
Posts: 12082

Re: Cobell historical accounting trial

Elouise Cobell provides update about status of trust settlement
Monday, October 4, 2010
Filed Under: Cobell

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit, will be answering questions about the proposed settlement to the case. Cobell is a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana.

Dear Indian Country

This is the fourteenth letter in a series of open letters that I’m sending to Indian Country. The purpose of this letter is to update you about the settlement.

Since my last Ask Elouise letter (August 10, 2010), I have been monitoring the Senate and our representatives have been meeting frequently with Members of Congress and their staffs, both Republican and Democratic, to assess our chances of passage and address concerns raised by some Members. An important part of our efforts included a series of discussions with Senate Indian Affairs Committee staff about concerns raised by Senator Barrasso, which resulted in improvements to the settlement including an additional $100 million to be distributed to low-recovery class members (transferred from funds in the land consolidation fund); additional protection for class members regarding the safety and soundness of the bank holding the settlement funds; and consultation with Indian Country regarding the Secretary’s appointments to the scholarship fund and the identification of fractional interests to be purchased by the land consolidation fund.

With these modifications, I don’t know of any Member who opposes our settlement. It was my belief that such widespread acceptance would lead to passage of legislation authorizing our settlement to go forward. Unfortunately, this was not the case and, once again, we were unsuccessful in getting legislation passed before the Congressional session ended.

The reason our settlement was not passed is singular: The Government has decided that Cobell must be linked to a political settlement between black farmers and the U.S. Government, known as the Pigford II settlement. Pigford I was filed in 1997 as a racial discrimination case against the Department of Agriculture. Pigford II is intended to make up for notice and distribution mistakes in Pigford I and to provide funds for new payouts.

Members of Congress have expressed concern about the Pigford settlement, with some alleging “massive and widespread fraud.” Some Republicans charge that upwards of 75% of all claims are infected.

Since our case has been linked to Pigford by the administration, we have struggled mightily to get through Congress, but the Pigford problem appears insurmountable after over seven months of effort and dedication from all involved. At this late date, with mid-term elections looming, it is unclear whether Pigford’s representatives will be able to convince members of Congress of the fairness of their cause. It is clear that the opposition to Pigford was again sufficient to torpedo our chances of passage this session.

Unfortunately, we are caught in the middle. We have more than broad support in Congress on the merits, but the administration and the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, have refused, to date, to separate our settlement from the newest Pigford settlement. Under these circumstances, passage appears to be impossible. After all these months, it is clear that we can’t carry Pigford, too. As I mentioned in my last open letter, the settlement agreement had been extended through October 15, at which time a status conference will be held by the district court. Congress returns for a lame duck session (following mid-term elections) in mid November. Between now and October 15, I will consult with our attorneys and our champions in Congress to determine if (and how) our settlement legislation can be passed, as well as our options if we determine that there is no reasonable chance of passage.

Prior Ask Elouise letters can be found on the settlement website: http://cobellsettlement.com/class/ask_elouise.php.

We also have a "frequently asked questions" section to answer the most common questions we've received: http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php.

With so many members of the class, I can’t answer every question that you send. The Ask Elouise letters will answer as many questions as possible that are relevant to the entire class.

The most common question I receive every week relates to whether someone is included in this settlement. Unfortunately, I do not have that information. The settlement agreement provides general guidelines (see also http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php), but I also understand that many of you have unique or unusual circumstances, which make it unclear to me whether you are included in the settlement class. For those of you who still have questions, I recommend that you register to receive all Court-ordered communications to ensure you do not miss important information. There is no need to register if you are receiving a quarterly IIM statement. The Court ultimately will determine who is included in this settlement. Registration information can be found at the end of this and every Ask Elouise letter.

If you are not currently receiving an IIM statement from the government, please remember to register for correspondence over the Internet or by calling the number below.

Internet: https://cert.tgcginc.com/iim/register.php
Telephone: 1-800-961-6109

If you have a question, send an e-mail to: askelouise@cobellsettlement.com. Otherwise you can send me a letter to the address below. To expedite the processing of your letters our contractor has set up a post office box in Ohio, but I assure you this letter is coming from me and I will see your letters.

Ask Elouise
Cobell Settlement
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Thank you and keep your questions coming!

http://64.38.12.138/News/2010/021938.asp

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#58 Dec-03-2010 12:48:am

bls926
Administrator
From: Texas
Registered: Oct-21-2006
Posts: 12082

Re: Cobell historical accounting trial

House passes Cobell settlement, sending legislation to Obama

By LORNA THACKERAY Billings Gazette missoulian.com
Posted: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 5:45 am

BILLINGS - The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed legislation funding $5.5 billion in settlement agreements that will mean hundreds of millions of dollars to Montana Indians.

In a 256-152 vote, the House approved the Claims Settlement Act of 2010 that resolves a class-action lawsuit brought by American Indians who alleged that the U.S. Department of the Interior mismanaged trust accounts for more than 300,000 Indians - 33,600 of them in Montana.

The act included $3.4 billion to settle the lawsuit initiated 14 years ago by Elouise Cobell, a member of Montana's Blackfeet Tribe.

Cobell, in a statement from Browning, said passage of the act was a "landmark milestone to justice for Native people."

"This is truly an historic day in Indian Country as well as in American history," she said. "By Congress placing a seal of approval on this settlement, a monumental step has been taken to remove a stain on our national honor, and create a better future for Indians as our government begins to make some amends for grave past injustices."

The Claims Act also approved $1 billion to resolve Indian water rights cases across the nation. Of that, $461 million will go to the Crow Tribe to implement a water rights compact with the state of Montana and fund water projects throughout the southeast Montana reservation.

In addition to the Cobell and water rights settlements, the bill approves $1.15 billion to fund settlement of a lawsuit brought by black farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discrimination in lending practices.

The Claims Act has already been approved in the Senate, so the final step is President Barack Obama's signature. The administration actively supported passage of the bill.

Montana's lone representative in the U.S. House, Republican Denny Rehberg, voted against the act, explaining that, while the cause may commendable, he could not support spending for the multibillion-dollar bill.

"Balancing the budget means saying no, even to worthy projects, when you run out of money," he said in a statement issued immediately after the vote. "We can all agree that these Montana projects should have been a spending priority, but unfortunately, they weren't considered until the money was already gone."

Montana's Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester both supported the Claims Act and helped shepherd it through the Senate.

"The passage of this bill will finally provide a long-overdue conclusion for hundreds of thousands of folks in Indian Country who have waited too long for justice," Baucus said of the Cobell settlement.

An agreement was reached between the Cobell plaintiffs and the Department of the Interior a year ago, but it required funding from Congress. As part of the settlement, $1.25 billion will be available to compensate Indians with money held in trust in Individual Indian Money accounts. When the settlement was announced last December, Interior officials said most people with IIM accounts would get between $500 and $1,500. According to the latest Interior estimates, Montana Indians could receive a total of more than $87 million.

The agreement also included $1.9 billion for a program to purchase fractionated interest in trust lands and consolidate those lands to tribes. Fractionation, one of the reasons Interior accounting was so muddled, occurs when small pieces of land are divided among numerous heirs through many generations. Hundreds of people may own tiny interests in a small parcel of land. Each individual may have received just a fraction of a cent in income earned on the land, but it had to be accounted for in each owner's IIM account. Fractionated ownership also makes land difficult to develop.

The Crow Tribe water compact, however, is not a done deal. After Obama signs the bill, the tribe will hold a referendum on the water rights package. While the tribal administration backs the compact agreement, opposition remains within the tribe.

http://missoulian.com/news/local/articl … 03286.html

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#59 Dec-11-2010 09:19:am

bls926
Administrator
From: Texas
Registered: Oct-21-2006
Posts: 12082

Re: Cobell historical accounting trial

Obama signs historic Cobell settlement

By Rob Capriccioso, Today staff
Story Published: Dec 9, 2010


WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama signed the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement into law Dec. 8, signaling the end of one approval process necessary to get money into the hands of Indian class members. The ball now goes to the overseeing court, which is charged with ensuring the settlement is fair.

In a White House ceremony, the president signed off on Congress’ approval of a settlement to the long-running Cobell v. Salazar Indian trust fund lawsuit. The case was first filed in 1996, and went through numerous court proceedings until last December when the Obama administration announced a deal with Indian plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs had argued for years that the accounting of their royalties held in trust by the Department of the Interior had been inaccurate and mismanaged since the 1800s, resulting in numerous losses for Indian families.

The Obama administration ultimately agreed that a large injustice had been done.

“After years of delay, this bill will provide a small measure of justice to Native Americans whose funds were held in trust by a government charged with looking out for them,” the president said in remarks just before he signed the legislation. “And it represents a major step forward in my administration’s efforts to fulfill our responsibilities and strengthen our government-to-government relationship with the tribal nations.”

Present at the ceremony was lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell – whom the president singled out, noting her work on the case through the years.

“Elouise’s argument was simple: The government, as a trustee of Indian funds, should be able to account for how it handles that money. And now, after 14 years of litigation, it’s finally time to address the way that Native Americans were treated by their government. It’s finally time to make things right.”

Cobell, wearing a bright red outfit, seemed pleased, and smiled when the president shook her hand after signing the settlement into law.

“After 123 years of living with what Congress once called the ‘broken trust,’ people throughout Indian country will see Wednesday as a monumental day,” the Blackfeet Nation citizen said.

“On Wednesday the nation’s political leaders placed their seal of approval on the settlement of our fight in the courts. The successful enactment of the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 confirms that both Congress and the executive branch believe that our settlement is fair and proper – a good deal for all.”

Still, there are many in Indian country who do not see the terms as “a good deal for all.” Much of the concern centers on money, as many class members are expected to receive less than $2,000 under the plan, which designates a total of $1.5 billion for hundreds of thousands of class members to divide.

The plaintiffs had at times argued for a much larger financial settlement, but the leaders of the Cobell team decided that the terms involved in the Obama administration’s offer were the best that could be accomplished without continuing to fight for possibly many more years.

Interior, meanwhile, will gain $1.9 billion to create a program aimed at land consolidation of fractionated Indian lands. Those funds will be issued to Indians who choose to sell their fractionated interests.

Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes said the department is preparing for administration of the funds.

“We will be gearing up for the program. We want to get off to a running start as we look forward to final approval of the settlement.”

Tribal consultation on how to move forward will be one of the first steps, Hayes said.

As Interior prepares, the settlement will go through another approval process – a fairness hearing – under the guidance of U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan. Next, assuming the terms are deemed fair, a media process will occur, notifying beneficiaries. And then it will be sorted out who will receive what.

Many months will likely be needed to get through the judicial processes. The lead plaintiffs have estimated it could take until August before any money flows.

One area of the settlement expected to make waves at the fairness hearing involves lawyers’ fees – an area that caused some Senate members to repeatedly delay supporting the settlement.

As of now, the deal would allow the plaintiffs’ lawyers to receive up to $100 million. The court overseeing the case will ultimately decide the final figure.

Both the Senate and House gave approval to the settlement in November after months of delays.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, present at the presidential ceremony, called the agreement “a milestone in empowerment and reconciliation for the nation’s First Americans.”

He said, too, that the settlement is the beginning of “true trust reform.” Along those, lines, he is establishing a Secretarial Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform in consultation with tribes.

Interior officials said the commission will undertake an evaluation of how the department manages and administers its trust responsibilities.

“We need to be more transparent and customer-friendly,” Salazar said. “The status quo is not acceptable.”

Several Indian officials and lawmakers with ties to Indian country hailed the settlement after the president signed the legislation.

“The president and the Congress have continued to exhibit a renewed determination to honor the federal trust responsibility to tribal nations and Indian people,” said Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, upon the president’s signature. “Today’s ceremony is another concrete example of this administration’s commitment to work with members of Congress to honor our historic, nation-to-nation relationship.”

“This is historic legislation,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, in a statement. “It not only closes the books on a shameful period of history for the federal government, it provides some long delayed justice to hundreds of thousands of Native Americans.”

A video of the presidential ceremony is online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=klscH30IC68.


http://www.indiancountrytoday.com/home/ … 93234.html

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#60 Mar-20-2011 01:35:pm

bls926
Administrator
From: Texas
Registered: Oct-21-2006
Posts: 12082

Re: Cobell historical accounting trial

Proposed class-action settlement could pay big for Oklahoma Indians

By WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Published: 3/17/2011  2:29 AM
Last Modified: 3/17/2011  5:12 AM

A proposed settlement to a massive federal class-action lawsuit alleging mismanagement of American Indian trust assets could mean tax-free payments of millions of dollars to Oklahomans - some of whom may be unaware of the case or the money awaiting them.

More than half a million American Indians in the western half of the United States - including about 35,000 in Oklahoma - would be eligible for payments under the proposed settlement of the 1996 federal class-action lawsuit, which attorney Keith Harper said was the largest settlement against the U.S. government ever.

But, he pointed out, the settlement deals with more than a century of gross government mismanagement of Indian assets.

"There is a temptation to say it is not enough," Harper said.

The settlement falls short of compensating every Indian fully, but it is a fair settlement in light of what is achievable in the case, he said. The settlement is larger than all previous Indian case judgements and settlements in U.S. history combined, he said.

Attorneys in the so-called Cobell settlement spoke to more than 100 people Wednesday meeting at the Creek Community Building in Tulsa.

The meeting was one of a series taking place in almost every state west of the Mississippi River as attorneys try to reach as many plaintiffs as possible.

Most of the potential beneficiaries of the case would receive much smaller payments, but some people have very big paydays awaiting them if the settlement is completed, Geoffrey Rempel, an accountant for the case's lead plaintiff, said in a telephone interview.

Members of the Osage Nation who have individual Indian money accounts with the federal government are among those eligible for some of the biggest settlement amounts, he said.

The 1996 federal class-action lawsuit, filed by Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet tribe, alleges that the government mismanaged American Indian assets - including land, oil, natural gas, timber and grazing - for decades, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars.

After years of litigation, a federal judge gave preliminary approval to a $3.4 billion settlement on Dec. 21.

Only people with Individual Indian Money accounts with the federal government are eligible for settlement money.

The settlement puts account holders in two groups: the historical accounting class - those who had an open account with the federal government between Oct. 25, 1994, and Sept. 30, 2009, and whose account had at least one cash transaction; and the trust administration class - those who had an account recorded in federal data between 1985 and Sept. 30, 2009.

Account holders or their heirs can be included in either or both classes.

Each member of the historical accounting class will receive $1,000, and each member of the trust administration class will receive about $800, but people who have had a great deal of money in their accounts for a long time can qualify for much more.

A website associated with the settlement shows examples of settlements that could go as high as $125,000, but Rempel said settlements could go much higher, especially for people whose trust accounts included management of petroleum assets.

Harper told those gathered Wednesday night that the payments would be tax-free and could not be used in deciding eligibility for any federal aid programs.

If the settlement receives final approval in federal court, the $1,000 payments to historical accounting class members will begin as soon as September. Payments in the trust administration class will be distributed after the court is satisfied that most of the class members have been identified and their payments have been calculated.

Leonard Maker, an Osage Indian from Hominy, congratulated Harper and lead plaintiff Cobell, who was not present. "It's a great victory for us," Maker said.

Others at Wednesday's meeting objected that the amount of the settlement was too low to compensate for more than a century of government mismanagement. Others were concerned that attorneys' fees would be too high.

Harper said the judge in the case would set the attorneys' fees but that the contingency fee with plaintiffs called for 14.75 percent of a $1.5 billion portion of the settlement.

People who are not satisfied with their settlements or the fees can write their objections to the court or opt out of the agreement, Harper said.



For more

For more information about the Indian trust settlement, call 800-961-6109 or go online to tulsaworld.com/cobellsettlement

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