HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The president of the National Black Farmers Association says he's being stiffed by the attorneys behind a $3.4 billion government settlement with Native American landowners who asked him to lobby Congress to fund the payout.
John Boyd, who spent years championing the discrimination claims of tens of thousands of black farmers, said he took on the task of pressing reluctant lawmakers to pass appropriations legislation in 2010 that included both the Indians' settlement and the farmers' own $1.15 billion deal.
He said he did so at the request of the attorneys representing hundreds of thousands Native Americans who said they were swindled out of the royalties owed to them for more than a century of development on land parcels they owned and the government held in trust. The lawsuit was filed in 1996 by Elouise Cobell of Browning, Montana, who died in 2011.
Boyd complained that the attorneys for the Native American plaintiffs received $99 million from the settlement, but he never saw a dime.
"Email after email they're asking me to do this work," Boyd told The Associated Press. "Who in their right mind is going to do all of this work for free? Nobody. This is America."
Boyd filed an $8 million lawsuit in Superior Court of District Columbia claiming attorney Dennis Gingold and Gingold's former law firm, Kilpatrick Townsend, unjustly enriched themselves from Boyd's work and that they breached an implied contract with him.
The Cobell attorneys have moved the case to federal court, where they filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss it. They said Boyd was lobbying for the funding bill's passage on behalf of the black farmers, and they had no agreement with Boyd to work for them.
"He claims as an unregistered lobbyist he should be paid for lobbying. As our motion says, we never asked him to do something specific. We asked him to relay what he was hearing," said Kilpatrick Townsend general counsel Susan Cahoon.
Boyd's claims also come too late under the three-year statute of limitations, the Cobell attorneys said in their motion.
The farmers' claims of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture were settled around the time an agreement was reached in the Cobell case. But reaching a deal was only the first step. Congress had to appropriate funding for the settlements, and court documents said White House officials decided to combine the two settlements and other settled claims into one funding bill.