For the second time, the Justice Department and the lawyers representing a class of Indians in a long-running federal suit in Washington have agreed to push back the deadline needed to secure congressional authorization for a $1.41 billion settlement.
The original deadline for congressional approval of the settlement was Dec. 31. But Congress failed to act, and so the deadline was extended to Feb. 28.
Now, the lawyers have agreed to a new deadline: April 16. The Justice Department issued this statement: “In order for the agreement to remain valid after its existing February 28, 2010 legislative enactment deadline, the parties have agreed to extend that deadline through Friday, April 16, 2010.”
Kilpatrick Stockton partner Keith Harper in Washington, a lawyer for lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, was not immediately reached for comment this afternoon. D.C. solo practitioner Dennis Gingold declined to comment about the extension. Neither extension required court approval.
The Cobell settlement, announced at a press conference in early December, requires Congress to pass legislation authorizing payment to the plaintiffs. Justice and Interior department officials, and the plaintiffs lawyers, too, have urged Congress to act swiftly on the legislation. By April, the plaintiffs lawyers had hoped to be close to final approval on the deal in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The settlement would end the 13-year-old case, which demands an accounting of the government’s handling of accounts set up for the collection and dispersal of billions of dollars in payments flowing from natural resources on Indian land.
The plaintiffs lawyers have agreed to a cap of $100 million in legal fees. Judge James Robertson, who is presiding over the Cobell case, has the final say on fees. A petition for certiorari, which the plaintiffs filed just days after the settlement was announced, is pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.