Posts Tagged ‘Cobell v. Salazar’

The four objectors to the historic Cobell land trust mismanagment settlement say they’re not backing down, even after their names and phones numbers were published in an open letter printed online and sent to thousands of plaintiffs prompted them to receive angry phones calls.

As Associated Press reporter Matt Volz reports, Carol Good Bear is one of the objectors that received a flood of angry phone calls.

    At first, the resident of New Town, N.D., hung up on the angry voices at the other end. After 15 calls, she unplugged her home phone and started screening her cellphone calls.

    She said she worries for her safety now that her address is in the hands of hundreds of thousands of people who might blame her for holding up their money.

    “To put my name out there for the public, I think that’s scary that these attorneys would use this tactic and intimidate me into dropping my appeal,” Good Bear said. “I don’t have protection. If somebody is upset about all this and comes at me with a gun, what am I supposed to do?”

The Cobell settlement was approved by the courts last fall after almost 16 years of court battles. Payments were scheduled to be send out in November before the objections were filed.

    The plaintiffs’ attorneys, led by Dennis Gingold of Washington, D.C., wrote in their letter that the “hopes and wishes of 500,000 individual Indians” had been delayed by those four people. If it wasn’t for them, the first payments would have been made before Thanksgiving, the letter said.

    “There is little doubt that they do not share the desires or care about the needs of the class, over 99.9 percent of whom support a prompt conclusion to this long-running, acrimonious case,” the attorneys wrote.

    The letter went on to list the names, phone numbers and addresses of Good Bear; Kimberly Craven of Boulder, Co.; Charles Colombe of Mission, S.D.; and Mary Lee Johns of Lincoln, Neb. The attorneys invited people to “ask them directly about their motives” and cautioned them to “please be civil in your communications.”

Jenna Cederberg

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Reserve votes to allow eviction of gang members

A CTV News report from Alberta, Canada (see the full video report here) details a new bylaw OK’d by voters there that would allow tribal officials to remove gang members from the reserve.

The Samson Cree Nation is a violence-plagued reserve, CTV reports.

    The band agreed to take the issue to a vote after the July death of the chief’s five-year-old grandson in a drive-by shooting, as well as ongoing gang violence.

    There are believed to be about 12 gangs in the four First Nations communities in the Hobbema area.

    “It is considered necessary for the health and welfare of the Samson Cree Nation to regulate the residence of its citizens and other persons on the reserve,” states the bylaw, which also includes a provision requiring prospective new residents to apply to a residency tribunal before moving in.

SBA introduces new course for Indian entrepreneurs
In a press release this week, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced a new program aimed at helping entrepreneurs in Indian Country get their business dreams off the ground and into action.

Native American Small Business Primer: Strategies for Success” is a free, self-paced online business course developed for Native American business owners.

    The new online course: emphasizes business planning and market research as essential steps to take before going into business; informs Native American entrepreneurs about the legal aspects of starting a business, including the type of ownership (legal structure) and licensing; and provides key information on seed money for starting up, raising capital, and borrowing money. In addition, there is a section on how to estimate business start-up costs that can help assess the financial needs of going into business.

Craven appeal of Cobell moves forward
ICTMN’s Rob Capriccioso has the latest on an appeal to the historic Cobell land trust settlement given final approval by the courts last year.

The settlement terms have irked some, such as Kimberly Craven, Capriccioso reports. Craven filed an appeal to the settlement in September and has continued to file documents with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit as objections to her appeals have filed in. The appeals will most likely delay settlement payments to thousands.

    Of note, Craven labels the proposed distribution of the settlement as “upside-down” in that “greatest alleged injuries” would receive “the least amount of money.” The brief also states, “[c]lass members with no hope of recovery have an interest in a settlement that wildly overcompensates them at the expense of class members who do have legitimate claim.”

    Cobell lawyers have previously argued that Craven is speculating that class members suffered different types of individualized damages.

Jenna Cederberg

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Montana Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus want to honor Elouise Cobell for her lead role in taking on the federal government in the landmark land trust settlement by having Congress award her the Congressional Gold Medal, they announced in a press release today.

Cobell, a Blackfeet tribal member from Browning, Mont., fought for almost 15 years to win the case that was settled for $3.4 billion and will help repay thousands of Natives for trust fund mismanagement by the government. The Montana senators introduced legislation Tuesday to help recognize Cobell’s “outstanding contributions.”

Here’s the joint press release about the proposed honor:

    (U.S. SENATE) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus today introduced legislation to award Montana’s Elouise Cobell the Congressional Gold Medal.

    Cobell, a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation, is being recognized for ‘her outstanding and enduring contributions to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and the Nation through her tireless pursuit of justice.’

    In 1996, Cobell filed an historic lawsuit alleging that the federal government mismanaged trust funds belonging to more than 500,000 individual American Indians. Congress agreed to a $3.4 billion settlement in December of 2010.

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Final approval for the class action Indian land trust lawsuit 15 years in the making came with a warning from the Securities and Exchange Commission last week as claimants and plaintiffs were asked to be on the look out for scammers.

Matt Volz of the Associated Press reported that the SEC is recommending people be on the look out for crooks trying to capitalize on payouts.

    The SEC issued an alert Friday to warn those plaintiffs to watch out for investment scams. Affinity fraud – scams that target particular ethnic or religious groups – usually involves somebody pretending to be part of that ethnic group, or enlists somebody from the ethnic group to help dupe the victim, according to the SEC.

    “Anytime there’s a lump-sum payout to a particular group, that can be a fairly attractive target for fraudsters,” said Owen Donley, chief counsel in the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy.

The first settlement checks from the $3.4 billion settlement are set to go out after Sept. 26, Volz reported.

The Cobell v. Salazar class action website has all the information for possible plaintiffs, along with the full text of the final approval and the links to file a claim.

    Paper claim forms must be postmarked no later than September 16, 2011, and online claims must be submitted no later than midnight (PDT) on September 16, 2011.

Jenna Cederberg

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Elouise Cobell (Associated Press)


It was another triumphant day in court for those whose lives have been wrapped up in the Cobell vs. Salazar case for more than 15 years, as a district judge gave final approval to the settlement Monday.

Although the case’s champion, couldn’t be there because she continues a fight against cancer, Elouise Cobell called the judge during the hearing to express her sentiment that the settlement will bring hope to Indian Country.

Barring an appeal, the ruling gives the Interior Department the lease to begin making payments to entitled parties.

The AP covered the story, and here’s the rundown of the Indian trust mismanagement from Elouise Cobell’s camp:

    From Bill McAllister:

    WASHINGTON – Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan has given final approval to a $3.4 billion settlement over the federal government’s acknowledged long-running mismanagement of the Indian Trust.

    Unless appealed, the ruling will give Native Americans the largest settlement ever reached with the federal government.

    Once Hogan enters a written opinion on the ruling he gave from the bench Monday, the Interior Department may be able to begin making payments to the nearly 500,000 Native Americans as early as August. Only 92 individuals filed papers to object of the settlement.

    Those numbers indicate that an overwhelming number of Native Americans approve of the settlement, the judge said.

    “I am certainly not convinced that a better result could be achieved by taking it to all the way to trial,” the judge said. “It’s hard to see there could be a better result.”

    If the case had not been settled, Judge Hogan predicted it would linger in the courts for another 15 years.

    After presiding over a daylong fairness hearing on the settlement, Hogan said in an oral ruling he would give final approval to the settlement, holding it to be “fair, reasonable and adequate.”

    The judge also gave high praise to Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet woman from Montana whose name became synonymous with the class action lawsuit she and four other Indians filed against the government in 1996.

    “She has done more for the individual Native American than any other person in recent years,” said the judge.

    Cobell has shown “unusual effort and courage” in leading the lawsuit, the judge said.

    Lead attorney Dennis M. Gingold said, Cobell “has dedicated her life to righting this wrong.”

    Earlier in the day Cobell told the judge by telephone that the courts had been willing to help Native Americans when the other branches of the federal government failed them.

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Tuesday, April 12: The panel “Comparative Law in Indian Country” will look at the different and unique laws that exist within individual American Indian tribes in Montana. Panelists featured will be Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal attorney John Harrison, UM law Professor Elizabeth Kronk and Crow joint lead executive counsel Heather Whiteman Runs Him. The panelists will discuss what every Montanan should know when dealing with and doing business with individual tribes or when entering tribal land.

By Gwen Florio, of the Missoulian:

Some of the most important legal issues in Indian Country are the focus of a conference at the University of Montana School of Law this week.

Panel discussions during Indian Law Week will scrutinize matters beyond the $3 billion settlement in the Cobell v. Salazar Indian trust case that has been in the spotlight much of the last few years.

The week’s events, hosted by the Native American Law Student Association, begin with an examination of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Montana v. U.S. decision in 1981, a ruling that has proved problematic for tribes for three decades now.

The last paragraph of the decision severely limited tribes’ ability to regulate non-Indians on “fee” land – that is, land that lies within reservations but isn’t owned by a tribe.

That single paragraph has been cited on issues from personal injury to taxation, zoning and water rights, said UM law professor Raymond Cross.

“This has become the Swiss Army knife of non-Indian defense … ,” he said. “The practical fallout is quite substantial.”

Cross will join Crow tribal attorney Urban Bear Don’t Walk Sr. and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Appellate Judge Cher Stewart on a panel discussing the topic at noon Monday.

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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.

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Elouise Cobell’s lawyers, who helped Indian Country win a landmark land trust settlement worth millions, continue to insist they deserve more than the agreed upon $99 million in legal fees.

According to The Blog of Legal Times, the attorneys say their push to get more money is fair, and is a concern of politicians, not those who may benefit from the suit.

    Last week, two Republicans members of the House, citing the Justice Department’s position on fees, introduced legislation to cap fees in Cobell v. Salazar at $50 million. A similar effort to cap the fees failed last year.

    “There is simply no question that members of both houses of Congress fully understood that there was no cap and that the court would decide the fee question consistent with controlling law,” (Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton partner Keith Harper and Washington solo Dennis Gingold said) in the court papers. “Those who are feigning surprise know better or should know better.”

    Cobell’s lawyers said they accomplished for Native Americans what no other lawyer or government official ever had—meaningful reform in the management of Indian trust accounts. The $3.4 billion settlement announced in December 2009 resolves claims the government botched its handling of accounts for more than a century.

    . . .

    Harper and Gingold, who have both traveled in recent weeks to meet with potential beneficiaries, said the fee petition is not the hot topic. Potential class members want to know more about how to participate in the settlement, not how much the lawyers are getting paid, Harper said.

Jenna Cederberg

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Information on how Native Americans in Montana can share in the recently approved $3.4 billion settlement of Indian Trust claims will be discussed at two newly-scheduled meetings in Montana next week, a new release from Elouise Cobell’s media director said.

On Tuesday, March 8, attorneys Bill Dorris and David Smith from the Kilpatrick Stockton law firm will discuss the settlement at 5 p.m. at the Browning High School Cafeteria, 105 Highway 89, in Browning.

At 5 p.m., on Wednesday, March 9, they will hold a meeting on Flathead Indian Reservation at the Johnny Arlee Victor Charlo Theater, building 83, 58138 Highway 93, in Pablo. This is on the Salish Kootenai College Campus.

Native Americans, whose families have individual Indian money trust accounts or who own individual Indian trust land, are welcome to attend these meetings regardless of their tribal affiliation and ask questions about the settlement.

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By Matthew Daly, of the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Lawyers representing Native Americans helped win a record $3.4 billion settlement with the federal government.

Now they want a judge to double their fees.

Instead of being paid up to $99.9 million, as initially agreed, attorney Dennis Gingold says he other lawyers deserve at least $224 million for their work on the case since 1996.

He and other lawyers “have achieved a stunning landmark victory in this case,” Gingold wrote in a 25-page motion filed Jan. 25 in federal court in Washington. “No lawyers have done so much for so many people in this circuit.”

Not only was the $3.4 billion settlement a record for Native American claims against the government, but the lawyers also “accomplished that which Congress could not do and the (U.S.) attorney general would not do, and have aided a group long abused to stand up against the abuse,” Gingold wrote.

For their efforts, $99.9 million “is so far below governing standards that it would be inconsistent with federal law,” Gingold said. Instead, he, Thaddeus Holt, Keith Harper and other lawyers deserve at least $223 million in fees, plus $1.3 million in expenses and other costs, Gingold said.

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