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Federal judge grants delay in American Indian trust settlement

[JURIST] US district court judge James Robertson granted Congress additional time [transcript, PDF] Thursday to approve a $3.4 billion settlement [agreement, PDF] against the government in a class action lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST news archive] brought for its alleged mismanagement of American Indian trust funds. The delay, the third since the settlement was reached [JURIST report] in December, moves the congressional approval date from April 16 to May 28. Though Roberston approved the latest delay, he warned [AP report] government lawyers that this is the last delay he will grant, stating that he will summon Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar [official profile] if Congress fails to act within the time granted. Pending congressional approval, the settlement will be the largest American Indian claim ever approved by the US government and will end a fourteen year legal battle.

Congress established the Indian trust in 1887 to hold proceeds from government-arranged leases of Indian lands. In July, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [official website] ordered [opinion; JURIST report] the US Department of Interior [official website] to provide an accounting of the trust to the court. In 2008, Roberston rejected plaintiffs' claims that the government had engaged in fraud, but held [JURIST report] that the DOI "unreasonably delayed" the accounting of billions of dollars of American Indian money. The case went to trial [JURIST report] in June 2008, after the plaintiffs rejected [JURIST report] a 2007 settlement proposal from the government.

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