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Indian Trust contempt ruling thrown out

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A contempt ruling against Interior Secretary Gale Norton and former Assistant Secretary for Indian affairs Neal McCaleb was thrown out July 18 by a federal appeals court.

On Sept. 16, 2002 Norton and McCaleb were found to have "committed fraud upon the court" for issues relating to resolving the Trust Fund and distribution of Individual Indian Monies. At the conclusion of the second contempt trial, U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth stated, "? The agency (Department of Interior) has indisputably proven to the Court, Congress, and the individual Indian beneficiaries that it is either unwilling or unable to administer competently the IIM trust. Worse yet, the Department has now undeniably shown that it can no longer be trusted to state accurately the status of trust reform efforts. In short, there is no longer any doubt that the Secretary of the Interior has been and continues to be an unfit trustee-delegate for the United States."

In the July 18, unanimous finding of the three-judge panel, Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote in the opinion: "Because Secretary Norton cannot be held criminally liable for contempt based upon the conduct of predecessor in office, her contempt conviction cannot stand."

McCaleb was also cleared from any wrongdoing within the 31-page opinion stating the lower courts failed to provide "any specific act or omission whatsoever on his part."