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Court throws out money judgment to Indians, orders accounting

CHRIS CASTEEL, Washington Bureau Published: July 24, 2009
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Interior Department must provide a proper accounting to Indians who have individual trust accounts, a federal appeals court ruled today in the long-running legal battle over the accounts.

The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a district judge's award of $455.6 million to the Indian account holders and said the judge must order the Interior Department to do the best accounting possible with the money Congress is willing to spend on it.

The Indians in the case -- known as the Cobell case for the lead plaintiff, Elouise Cobell -- had appealed the $456.6 judgement made by U.S. District Judge James Robertson, saying it wasn't enough. The Indians had sought a judgement of $47 billion.

The appeals court said today the law under which the Indians sued the government entitles the account holders to know how much money should be in their accounts. Robertson had ruled such an accounting would be impossible because of the complexity of accounts going back more than 100 years and because Congress had refused to appropriate the money the government sought to perform the accounting.

But the appeals court said today, "It is within the power of the district court to order an accounting without requiring Interior to perform analyses the costs of which exceed the benefits payable to individual American Indians.

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