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McCaleb feels "vindicated" with recent ruling

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ADA, Okla. - On July 18 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit threw out the contempt ruling against Interior Secretary Gale Norton and former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Neal A. McCaleb in the ongoing Cobell v. Norton case. The case revolves around the mismanagement of money owed to Native Americans since the inception of the department's history.

An earlier ruling in U.S. district court held Norton and McCaleb in contempt for failing to comply with an order to account for money owed to Native Americans, going back to the 19th century. The recent court ruling found that Norton and McCaleb could not be held accountable for events that happened before they took their respective offices. The court also ruled that Norton's actions did not meet the criteria of fraud against the court, and found the lower court's appointment of a monitor in the department as impermissible "under our adversarial system of justice and our constitutional system of separated powers."

The court threw out the charges of contempt against McCaleb and found that the lower court did not specify any act to support the allegation. "I feel vindicated," McCaleb said in an interview with Indian Country Today. "Five of the counts were based on events that took place before I even took office. I knew this case was there when I took office, but I was shocked to be called in on contempt of court four months after I started. As for criminal intent, there was nothing sinister going on."

McCaleb sees the reconstruction of the records as a Herculean undertaking. "I'm not saying this is not important, this is important," McCaleb said. "But this is a daunting task; we're talking about government records that no longer exist. They say it will take two billion dollars and 10 years. As a people we can't look backward, we have to look forward."

McCaleb sees this as the end of the contempt charges, but says that he does not feel like he's totally out of the case yet. "They can appeal this decision to the Untied States Supreme Court, but I doubt that they will. I doubt that the Supreme Court would want to be involved."