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Federal judge extends deadline for Congress to approve Indian Trust settlement

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Friday extended the deadline for Congress to approve the $3.4 billion settlement concerning the US government's alleged mismanagement of funds [DOI materials] held in trust for American Indian landowners [JURIST news archive]. Judge Thomas Hogan set a new deadline for January 7, 2011, reasoning that this would allow the lame-duck session of Congress a final chance to approve the settlement [agreement, PDF]. This is the seventh time [case materials] an extension has been granted since the settlement was agreed upon [JURIST report] in December 2009. The House of Representatives has twice approved the settlement, but the US Senate, which will reconvene on November 15, has yet to vote on the issue. Hogan urged Congress to accept the settlement and meet the January extension, warning that costly litigation for both parties would follow further delay.

The Indian Trust was established by Congress in 1887 to hold proceeds from government-arranged leases to Indian lands. Original litigation was started in 1996 by Elouise Cobell on mismanagement claims [text, PDF] against the Department of the Interior (DOI) [official website]. Although it was determined that the US government had not engaged in fraud, Judge James Roberts of the DC District Court held that the DOI had unreasonably delayed the accounting of the trust. In 2008, litigation ensued [JURIST report] after plaintiffs rejected [JURIST report] a $7 billion settlement proposal from the government. If approved, the $3.4 billion of the current settlement will be divided between class members, a program for improved education for American Indians and a Trust Land Consolidation Fund.

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