Contempt Finding against Babbitt Likely
Seper, Jerry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
A federal judge is expected to hold Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in contempt for failing to turn over Indian trust records in a lawsuit within the next few days, officials close to the case said yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who ordered contempt hearings in January in a suit claiming mismanagement of Indian trust funds by the Interior Department, is angry that Mr. Babbitt failed over a two-year period to produce trust fund records, canceled checks and other documents demanded by the court.
The judge has sought records and other materials involving more than 300,000 individual accounts and 2,000 tribal accounts managed by the department, estimated at about $450 million.
"We are expecting that Mr. Babbitt will be cited for contempt and that the ruling is imminent," said James McCarthy, a consultant for the Native American Rights Fund, which brought the suit. "The department failed to produce the documents over a two-year period, and there appears to be no possible way that a contempt ruling can be avoided."
Lawyers and others close to the case say a contempt ruling could come by early next week.
Judge Lamberth's expected action comes at a time that President Clinton is under scrutiny by a federal judge in Arkansas on contempt accusations involving misleading testimony he gave in the Paula Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit.
The Babbitt contempt order could include Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, whose department manages the trust fund accounts, although Mr. McCarthy said Mr. Rubin was not as actively involved in the matter as Mr. Babbitt.
The two Cabinet secretaries were among those named in the class-action suit, filed in 1996 when the Native American Rights Fund - representing various Indian tribes - accused the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs of mismanagement. …