The federal government and lawyers for the plaintiffs have agreed to extend the deadline to finalize a $1.41 billion settlement in long-running Indian trust litigation past Dec. 31..
The new deadline is Feb. 28.
Kilpatrick Stockton partner Keith Harper, a lawyer for lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, and a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice issued identical statements via e-mail: "In order for the agreement to remain valid after its existing December 31, 2009 Legislative Enactment Deadline, the parties have agreed to extend that deadline through February 28, 2010."
Harper said he and D.C. solo practitioner Dennis Gingold,who also represents Cobell, signed the agreement late Tuesday. The extension does not require court approval, and no other changes were made to the settlement terms, Harper said.
The settlement agreement required Congress to pass legislation by Dec. 31 authorizing payment to the plaintiffs, but lawmakers didn't do so before leaving town for the Christmas holiday.
The settlement would end the complex case, which began more than 13 years ago. The plaintiffs, a class of more than 300,000 American Indians, have demanded an accounting of how the government handled a fund set up for the collection and dispersal of billions of dollars in natural resources royalties flowing from American Indian land. Read a recent story in The National Law Journal about the settlement here.
To make the settlement work, lawyers for the plaintiffs agreed to cap legal fees at $100 million (read a previous BLT post on that here). But they also filed a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court last week, preserving their options because the settlement is not final.