Ask Elouise

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This is the 10th letter in a series of open letters that I’m sending to Indian country to answer questions you have asked me about settlement of the Cobell class action lawsuit.

The most common question I receive every week relates to whether a particular person 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.

The deadline for Congress to enact legislation has been extended by order of the district court to May 28 and many beneficiaries also have asked how they can contribute to a successful resolution of this case. I always have said that you need to call or write your senators and representatives in Congress to let them know how you feel about the settlement. We have now uploaded a form letter that you can update with your representative’s information and send to them. This form letter can be downloaded by visiting http://cobellsettlement.com/class/settlement.php. Contact information for your representatives can be located at www.congress.org/congressorg/officials/congress. We need all the help we can get, your letters and calls to Congress are being heard. Thank you, in advance.

I heard that Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., sent a letter to tribal leaders trying to kill the settlement, is this true? Yes. It is unfortunate that Sen. Barrasso, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, has come out against settlement of this long-running litigation which is of utmost concern to Indian country. On April 27, 2010, Sen. Barrasso sent a letter to all tribal leaders proposing to change the settlement agreement because he says that his changes would improve the settlement. That is not true. The senator and his staff know that their proposed changes are material and necessarily would kill the settlement that we have worked so hard to reach.

What is particularly disappointing to me is that I sat down with Sen. Barrasso in his office to discuss the terms of settlement. The only major issue he raised in our meeting was the reasonableness of the agreed-upon attorneys’ fees, which I said are low because of the size of the recovery and the hard work done by our counsel. He looked me in the eye following my explanation and told me to my face that the settlement is OK with him. In fact, his attorney, who sat across from me, told him that the attorneys’ fees are fair.

Frankly, the attorneys’ fees are very low: A maximum of three percent of our recovery compared to the 25 – 40 percent, and more, that attorneys typically are paid when they successfully sue doctors for medical malpractice. Think of the amount of time our lawyers have spent on this case (14 years) and the risk they took to achieve for you the largest settlement with the government in history.

So, what does this mean for the settlement? Nobody ever said working with Congress would be easy or that we would receive unanimous support, no matter how just our cause. I and our attorneys will continue to push Congress to do the right thing and pass legislation authorizing the settlement. It’s difficult to predict what the impact of his letter might be. I hope that he will come to his senses and realize that this is the best deal possible for all parties at this point in time, but if he doesn’t there will (hopefully) be a vote and he can have his counted. In the mean time, Sen. Barrasso’s letter underscores how important it is for all of you, including those of us who live in Wyoming, to write your representatives in Congress and urge them to pass legislation without further delay.

Do I have to fill out paperwork to be included in the settlement? You do not have to fill out paperwork if you are receiving a quarterly IIM account statement. The court will order that communications be sent to you directly. However, if you think you might be included in the settlement and you are not receiving quarterly IIM account statements, you should make sure to register for all court-ordered communications. By registering, you ensure that you will receive important information from the court about your rights and obligations as a potential member of the class. If you are not receiving quarterly IIM account statements, it is possible that you will have to fill out some paperwork to be included in the settlement. This information will be included in the court-ordered communications. Instructions for how to register are at the bottom of this and every Ask Elouise letter.

Is this a per-account payment or a per-person payment? The settlement will result in payments to individual Indian class members. Individuals will only receive one payment as a member of a class. That means you could receive one payment as a member of the historical account class and a second payment as a member of the trust administration class.

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: (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

– Elouise Cobell
Browning, Mont.