WASHINGTON - In a written opinion that may contain the strongest criticism
yet against the Department of Interior, Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the
Department of Interior to admit to Individual Indian Money trust account
holders that Interior accounting may be unreliable.
Lamberth issued the memorandum opinion and order in response to the motion
by plaintiffs in Cobell vs. Norton that asked the court to require the
government to admit an inability or a refusal to discharge federal
For the last nine years, Lamberth has shown impatience and anger with
Interior. It all started when the class action lawsuit was filed on behalf
of 500,000 IIM account holders who claimed the government owed them
possibly $300 billion in unpaid leases and royalties.
Recent court motions from the plaintiffs indicate they would accept $27.5
billion be distributed to the lease account holders. The money does not
belong to the government - it belongs to the property owners, the
In his memorandum and order, Lamberth called those who work for Interior
"evil, apathetic and cowardly" people, and referred to Interior as a
Lamberth, in his most brutal attack yet in his years with the case, wrote
in his memorandum that Interior "is the morally and culturally oblivious
hand-me-down of a disgracefully racist and imperialist government that
should have been buried a century ago, the last pathetic outpost of the
indifference and anglocentrism [sic] we thought we had left behind."
He said the department, despite the fact that it was near "wholesale
abdication of its trust duties," the majority of American Indian
beneficiaries remained unaware that anything was out of order. He described
information submitted by Interior and the BIA to the beneficiaries as 'not
"Interior employs large, professional accounting firms to conduct its
historical accounting activities," Tina Kreisher, director of
communications for Interior, said in prepared statement.
"These historical accounting efforts have consumed approximately $100
million in taxpayer funding and have found a net error of approximately
Kreisher stated further that the accounting efforts were not complete, but
the facts to date do not support "the rhetoric being advanced in this
Responding to Lamberth's comments about the government employees, Kreisher
said he questioned the motivations and actions of all the employees,
including generations of American Indian employees that numbered into the
tens of thousands over the past 100 years.
Interior's official response further called Lamberth's latest order
"intemperate rhetoric uncommon to jurisprudence, but made common in this
Government appeals to some of Lamberth's past rulings have been
successfully overturned. It was not clear whether the government would
appeal this latest memorandum opinion and order.
"In the end, an objective assessment of this matter will come from the
combined efforts of all three branches of the federal government, each of
whom have a role in addressing the issues involved in the case," Kreisher
Lamberth criticized Congress' efforts to reform the system, which met with
failure. Orders from his bench to Interior to reform trust management "have
also universally crashed and burned," he stated.
Despite what Interior claims is a trust system that has not proven to
contain gross errors, the court argues that the government admitted that
the account balances it presents cannot be supported by documentation.
The plaintiffs in Cobell continue to argue that historical data that could
reconcile the individual accounts has been lost or destroyed. The
plaintiffs have asked in the past that an independent trust organization be
contracted to manage the accounts. Lamberth said in his latest opinion that
it may come down to that in the end. He also stated his intent on using the
judiciary was to advocate for changes in how Interior manages the trust
As the courts consider the issue and Congress works on solutions, "Interior
will continue to undertake its historical accounting and other trust duties
carefully," Kreisher stated.
By Lamberth's order, any correspondence addressed to former and current IIM
account holders will contain a lengthy statement from the government. The
statement will explain the lawsuit and Interior's trust responsibility to
reconcile each account. The important sentence in the statement read:
"Evidence introduced in the Cobell case shows that any information related
to the IIM Trust, IIM Trust lands, or other IIM Trust assets that current
and former IIM Trust account holders receive from the Department of
Interior may be unreliable."
Lamberth finished his opinion this way: "Real justice for these Indians may
still lie in the distant future; it may never come at all. This really
makes a statement about our society and our form of government that we
should be unwilling to let stand."