The lawyers in the long-standing Indian trust litigation agreed to a range of attorneys fees, between $50 million and nearly $100 million, that will come out of the $1.4 billion settlement between the plaintiffs and the federal government, Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee this afternoon.
The settlement, signed Dec. 7th, requires legislative and judicial approval before it is final. The settlement requires Congress to pass legislation by Dec. 31 authorizing the payment of $1.4 billion to the plaintiffs, who sued the government in 1996 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Indian Affairs Committee is holding an oversight hearing this afternoon.
Perrelli, a lead negotiator for the Justice Department, was responding to a question about legal fees from Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the committee’s vice-chairman. Perrelli said he shared Barrasso’s concern considering attorneys fees for the plaintiffs lawyers comes directly from the settlement amount. “We didn’t ultimately reach an agreement on fees,” Perrelli said today.
Perrelli said the lawyers, including D.C. solo practitioner Dennis Gingold and a team from Kilpatrick Stockton, agreed to litigate between a range of legal fees—$50 million to $99.9 million. The lawyers agreed not to bind the court with a specific amount, Perrelli said. Perrelli noted that if the litigation continued, the attorney fees bill could have been substantially higher.
The payment of attorneys fees was “a central issue of concern for us as we drove down to the final goal line on reaching this settlement,” Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar said today at the hearing.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), the committee’s chairman, said today he does not know whether Congress can meet the Dec. 31 deadline. He said he hoped the parties would consider mutually extending the timeline. “It would be an incredible disappointment to waste this historic opportunity,” Dorgan said.