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Court session in Individual Indian Money trust case comes to a swift end

WASHINGTON - On the next-to-last day in open court of the evidentiary hearing into the Individual Indian Money trust, U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson still wanted to ''fill in the picture,'' as he stated when overruling a government objection to the testimony of energy consultant Kevin Gambrell, former director of the Federal Indian Minerals Office.

Only a day later, Robertson brought the trial-like hearing to an end. Attorneys for the government and the plaintiffs must draft him a memo by Nov. 30, defining how they want him to rule, said Bill McAllister, a media contact for the plaintiffs. At some time thereafter, Robertson is expected to rule on whether the government is engaged in a proper historical accounting of the IIM trust, and other matters.

Robertson himself had hinted at the possibility of a much longer hearing. ''I think it went fast because that's the way he wanted it,'' McAllister said. ''Everybody understood the rules of the game by the end and was playing by them.''

Among the rules was to maintain a focus on the Interior Department's court-ordered historical accounting activities. The plaintiff class of IIM account holders, led by Elouise Cobell, contends the activities amount to no accounting at all.

Gambrell described the complex process of breaking down ownership documents on an IIM lease to establish proper ''unit allocation'' of mineral revenues. The revenues derive from assets on leased lands that are held in trust by the government for individual Indians; they are due to the IIM accounts established to receive such revenues for individual account holders. Because many of the lands are fractionated among multiple owners, lease revenues must be allocated according to units of interest in land.

''Allocation is extremely critical in unit allocation,'' Gambrell said. ''It is the essence of getting payment correctly to individual Indian owners, tribes, state, federal programs and private landowners. Without it, you cannot allocate money properly. ... The allocation process goes all the way back to the lease instrument. In order to get money correctly to an individual, you have to understand every aspect of the lease instrument. Is it unitized, is it co-mingled, what is the size of the property, what type of production comes off that property? To when it goes through the system, is it a correct royalty rate, is it going to the correct owners ... ? And when you do that, you have to look at source documents, and you have to do third-party verification.''

Gambrell said FIMO was uniquely charged with breaking down IIM ownership documents, adding that federal data on lands underlying IIM accounts was often incomplete and inaccurate.

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As Gambrell, under questioning from lead plaintiff attorney Dennis Gingold, progressed toward the conclusion that missing and partial government documents cannot provide a basis for proper tracking of ownership documents, Department of Justice attorney Robert Kirschman objected. (The DoJ is defending Interior, the federal government's delegate agency over the IIM trust.)

''I don't want to overdo this, and you're right, that this is going forward more in asset management than it is historical accounting,'' Robertson said. ''But frankly, it helps for me to kind of fill in the picture of what is known and what is not known, and then what can be verified and what can't be verified.

''So a reasonable amount of this I'm going to allow.''

Gambrell went on to describe minerals audit findings of FIMO that increased revenues of IIM account holders by eight times. The government agency delegated to manage minerals royalties on federal lands, the Minerals Management Service, responded by eliminating minerals audits in favor of ''compliance review'' procedures, a less rigorous standard.

To the government's objection, Robertson said, ''It may not prove anything, but it raises questions.''

The government did not cross-examine Gambrell.

The court decided against a visit to Lenexa, Kan., where Interior is engaged in its Historical Accounting Project for Individual Indian Money Accounts.