Judge Scolds Babbitt and Rubin for 'Misdeeds,' Fines Gov't

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

(CNS) - A US district judge Tuesday ordered the government to pay $625,000 for the "disobedience" of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin in withholding documents in a lawsuit alleging the mismanagement of Indian trust funds.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth accused Babbitt and Rubin of disobeying his November 1996 order to turn over records in a suit brought by the Native American Rights Fund, saying they "covered up their disobedience through semantics and strained, unilateral, self-serving interpretations of their own duties."

The $625,000 judgement against the government was the "only fair result" given the manner in which Babbitt and Rubin conducted themselves in refusing to turn over the records, the paper quoted the judge as saying.

"I have never seen more egregious misconduct by the federal government," the judge said.

The Indian Rights Fund announced to the media it was gratified with the result.

"The way the government has conducted this case should shock anyone with a basic familiarity with the law," an Indian affairs official said. "It has literally taken the Indians years to hold these guys accountable. The government sought to delay the trial to exhaust our resources. There was no other legal purpose."

The judge issued contempt citations in February after Babbitt and Rubin refused to produce trust-fund records and other documents demanded by the court. Babbitt and Rubin were named in the class-action suit filed by the Indian fund accusing Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs of mismanagement.

The judge had sought records involving more than 300,000 individual accounts and 2,000 tribal accounts managed by the Interior and Treasury departments, which manage monies from land settlements, royalties from minerals and companies that use Indian land. Officials have been unable to produce accounting records or statements to verify how much cash has been collected.