A high-profile Native American class action in Washington that settled for $3.4 billion after more than a decade of litigation is now over, the plaintiffs' attorneys said this afternoon.
Lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell sued in June 1996 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking a historical accounting of money the government held in trust accountants for Indians. (Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, died last year.)
The government and the plaintiffs' attorneys announced the historic settlement in December 2009. The deal, which potentially compensates hundreds of thousands of class members, required congressional approval. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court have concluded review of the settlement.
"The litigation finally has ended," a lead attorney for Cobell, Dennis Gingold in Washington, said in an e-mail. "Everything that Elouise Cobell spent her life fighting for now has come true. She is a true American hero."
Gingold represented the lead plaintiffs with a team from Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, including Keith Harper, a partner in the firm's Washington office and William Dorris, a partner in Atlanta and a former chair of the firm.
The deal includes $1.5 billion to compensate an estimated 500,000 Native Americans, the plaintiffs' lawyers said. The settlement resolved claims addressing the government's mismanagement of trust assets, including royalty payments rooted in leases for oil, gas, timber and grazing.
President Barack Obama said in a statement that the final approval of the Cobell settlement clears "the way for reconciliation between the trust beneficiaries and the federal government.
Obama said Cobell's "legacy will be a renewed commitment to our trust relationship with Indian Country."