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Cabinet Members Held in Contempt

February 22, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal judge held two Clinton Cabinet secretaries in contempt today over the government’s delay in producing records of Indian trust funds.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth issued the contempt order, saying Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt failed to produce documents related to a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Indian trust funds.

The secretaries and Assistant Interior Secretary Kevin Gover were ordered to pay legal fees and other expenses that resulted from their delay in complying with Lamberth’s November 1996 order to produce documents.

``I have never seen more egregious misconduct by the federal government,″ Lamberth said in his order.

The judge’s ruling followed a contempt hearing last month that grew out of a class-action lawsuit over the mishandling of 300,000 Indian accounts worth an estimated $500 million.

Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs was ordered two years ago to turn over statements, checks and other documents on accounts held by five Indians who are the lead plaintiffs in the suit against the Interior and Treasury departments.

So far, only a small number of the documents have been produced.

``The court is deeply disappointed that any litigant would fail to obey orders for production of documents, and then conceal and cover up that disobedience with outright false statements that the court then relied upon,″ the judge wrote. ``But when that litigant is the federal government, the misconduct is even more troubling.″

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