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Judge's Plan Faulted in Indian Trust Case

Despite the provision's temporary nature, attorneys for the Indian plaintiffs in the case had offered "no reason overcoming the usual principle that a court is to apply the law in effect at the time the court rules," the appeals judges agreed.

Interior Department officials still were scrambling to assess the ruling's impact.

"On first review, we're gratified by this ruling. It is yet another reversal of a district court decision in this long-running matter," department spokesman Dan DuBray said.

Dennis Gingold, an attorney for the Indian plaintiffs, cast the decision in a positive light.

"We're very pleased that the court of appeals ruled that Interior must fix the system rather than just provide a historical accounting, and that Judge Lamberth has full authority to fashion an equitable remedy," Gingold said.

Gingold also said he was pleased that the appeals court recognized that the plaintiffs have the right to 117 years of interest earned from the multibillion dollar case.

The ruling is the latest in a huge 8-year-old class-action lawsuit filed in 1996 on behalf of more than 300,000 American Indians, who demanded an accounting that had been ordered by Congress two years earlier.

The Indian plaintiffs allege that the government mismanaged, misplaced or stole billions of dollars in oil, gas, timber and grazing royalties the government had a duty to manage. Congress created an Indian trust fund in 1887 to manage revenues from parcels designated to each tribal member.

Accounting problems persist, despite more than $600 million spent by the Interior Department since 1996 to comply with instructions from both Congress and Lamberth.


Associated Press writer Sam Hananel contributed to this report.

On the Net:

Interior Department:http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust

Indian plaintiffs:http://www.indiantrust.com

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© 2004 The Associated Press