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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Federal judge holds Babbitt and Rubin in contempt

By Pierre Thomas/CNN

February 22, 1999
Web posted at: 6:11 p.m. EST (2311 GMT)

WASHINGTON (February 22) -- In an extraordinarily rare move, a federal judge in Washington has held the secretaries of the Treasury and Interior departments in contempt of court for repeatedly failing to produce court-ordered records in the largest lawsuit ever brought by American Indians.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt  

Federal District Judge Royce Lamberth concluded the staffs of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin had shown a "flagrant disregard for the orders of this court..."

Lamberth had ordered the government to produce the documents in November 1996.

A clearly frustrated Lamberth offered a blistering assessment of the government's cooperation saying "the way the defendants have handled this litigation up to the commencement of the contempt trial is nothing short of a travesty."

Not only did Lamberth find the government had failed to produce the documents, but said it sought to "cover up" the failure through false statements to the court.

In addition, Lamberth said he plans to appoint a special master to oversee the case to ensure the government acts appropriately.

The class action lawsuit alleges the U.S. government has mismanaged billions of dollars earned by Indians through use of their land for oil, gas, timber, ranching and farming. The U.S. government acts as trustees of accounts which hold money for individual Indian beneficiaries. The accounts are thought to be worth $4 billion.

Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin  

Interior Department officials acknowledged flaws in record keeping on the accounts. But the officials said efforts were underway to remedy the problem.

The department released a fact sheet yesterday saying Babbitt had made "fixing the Indian trust fund management systems one of his highest priorities." But the fact sheet did not address the court order directly. Interior officials were mulling over a response.

Treasury and Justice department officials have not commented on the contempt order.


U.S. Treasury Web site

Department of the Interior Web site


Monday, February 22, 1999

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