[JURIST] A federal appeals court ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday to suppress three documents which contained information that the US Department of the Interior [official website] allegedly destroyed documents related to a class-action lawsuit brought by Native Americans [DOI Indian Trust Fund website], who claim they are owed tens of billions of dollars. The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit ten years ago, accusing the government of mismanaging an Indian trust [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] in their names for a period of 120 years. The suppressed documents were written by Alan Balaran, who was appointed in 1999 as a "special master" to oversee the exchange of information between the parties.
Balaran personally visited Indian reservations and federal depositories during his tenure and claimed that Interior Department officials neglected to report problems and also destroyed documents, sometimes purposefully. But the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] allowed the reports to be suppressed due to Balaran's hiring of a former Interior Department contractor who had previously accused the department of fraud. The expert was able to edit Balaran's reports, which the court determined was a "biased way of conducting and reporting upon an investigation." Balaran resigned [press release] as special master in April 2004, claiming that the Bush administration had been pursuing his recusal to silence criticisms of the Department of Interiors handling of individual Indian trust accounts, and alleging that the administration knowingly allowed energy companies to pay Indians far less than non-Indians for oil, gas and other leases. AP has more.