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Judge holds private meeting on trust funds security

WASHINGTON ? The federal judge overseeing Cobell vs. Norton, the ongoing litigation over individual trust funds, recently held a closed door meeting with officials from the Department of Interior to discuss computer security problems at the Department's facilities.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth met with two attorneys from the Justice Department. Other attorneys involved in the controversial case over the mismanagement of millions of dollars in individual American Indian trust accounts were not invited to participate in the meeting.

A court order filed the day of the meeting said Judge Lamberth met only with attorneys Sandra P. Spooner and John T. Stemplewicz. Both are from Justice's civil division and are in charge of developing arguments for the federal government's opposition to a trust fund receiver and other matters in the case.

What was said during the meeting is not known. However, Judge Lamberth did record the meeting on video, but said it will be kept under seal temporarily.

While what transpired at the meeting is not entirely clear, the judge's order outlines issues discussed. One of the main points raised was Interior Secretary Gale Norton's opposition to the publication of a report by special master Alan Balaran after his investigations into computer security. In early November Balaran filed his report which also was put under a temporary seal.

Norton would like to address the contents of the report but keep it under seal. She requested that the court allow her to speak with a third-party contractor about certain security issues raised by Balaran. Norton also would like to file certain parts of a report completed by that contractor, EDS Corp., also under seal. Norton paid the company nearly $3 million to assess the trust management reform process. The EDS report cited by Norton discusses security issues with individual Indian accounts and tribal accounts.

Judge Lamberth ordered Interior to file its oppositions by Nov. 28, saying that once the government files its motion to keep Balaran's report sealed, the plaintiffs can respond.

'The plaintiffs will have an opportunity at that time to oppose the court's temporary sealing orders,' Lamberth said.

Norton also opposes a temporary restraining order proposed by plaintiffs in the case, who also filed a response to Balaran's report under seal.

Balaran, also an attorney, was appointed by Judge Lamberth to investigate records held by the federal government which have been found missing or destroyed. Balaran has cited the departments of Interior and Treasury in the past for violating court orders. As a result of other investigations, Judge Lamberth found former Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin, former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in contempt of court for failing to comply in a full and timely manner with a discovery order in the case.

Indian plaintiffs initiated the class action lawsuit in 1996 to force the federal government to account for millions of dollars in individual Indian monies. The federal government currently holds approximately $450 million in approximately 300,000 individual trust accounts. There are reportedly no records for more than $100 million of those dollars. In tribal trust accounts overall $2.4 billion still remains unreconciled.