As a judge considers a request to double fees given to attorneys who helped negotiate the landmark $3.4 billion Indian trust mismanagement suit settled just months ago, Congress is considering a bill to cap the fees at $50 million.
The suit was spearheaded by Elouise Cobell (Blackfeet), whose camp seems to be standing behind the fee increase request. The suit took nearly 15 years to settle.
The Washington Post covered the hearing, where no action was taken.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, is co-sponsoring legislation to cap the attorneys’ fees at $50 million.
He said in a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Indians and Alaska Native Affairs, which he chairs, that “it smells” for the plaintiffs’ lawyers to now make the argument that they deserve $223 million, after the settlement limited their fee request to $99.9 million.
Young said both the plaintiffs’ attorneys and the Obama administration officials who negotiated the settlement refused to testify Tuesday on the proposal and have stymied previous attempts to gather information about how the fees were structured.
“Today, the Plaintiffs are stonewalling the efforts of this Committee to get to the bottom of the fee controversy in their refusal to testify or to respond to numerous written inquiries over the last year seeking information about their fees,” Young said.
Here is the full statement released by Cobell legal team, via media contact Bill McAllister, after the hearing:
After 15 years of intense litigation against the federal government, plaintiffs and Class Counsel have achieved an historic settlement. It is the largest settlement with the government in American history. In addition to $3.4 billion in this settlement, $5 billion was spent by the government to rehabilitate its broken trust management systems solely because of this litigation. Further, Congress confirmed that all funds received by Indians in this settlement are tax free.
The settlement terms were vetted for 12 months by members of Congress and their staffs. Each member of Congress who was involved in that extraordinary vetting process understood the terms. Congress, in its overwhelming ratification of the settlement, confirmed that the presiding U.S. District Judge should determine appropriate legal fees in accordance with controlling law.
The matter is now before a distinguished federal judge and it is within the authority of the Court to decide that and any other fairness issue on the legal merits without partisan influence. Political interference in the judicial process would harm 500,000 individual Indians, undermine our system of government and jeopardize the settlement in its entirety.