With action from Congress not expected before Sunday, the deadline for a settlement in a long-running case on the misuse of Indian trust funds was extended until mid-April, a Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed to Main Justice.
“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,” DOJ spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said.
The parties announced on Dec. 8 that they had reached a settlement in Cobell v. Salazar, a lawsuit that accused the Interior Department of mishandling funds in trust funds that belong to individual American Indians.
One of the largest class action lawsuits against the U.S. government, the case was originally filed in 1996 by Elouise Cobell on behalf of more than 300,000 American Indians holding individual accounts. In the waning days of 2009, both parties agreed to extend the year-end deadline for final resolution of the settlement to Feb. 28, 2010.
Because Congress will not pass the required legislation before Sunday, the deadline was extended once again.
In late January, both sides were hopeful they could meet the deadline, but left open the option of extending it if Congress was unable to reach the deadline.
“We’re certainly hopeful that we will get passage of that,” Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli told Main Justice in late January. “I don’t have any specifics. But we remain hopeful that it’s going to get passed.”
Keith Harper, a Kilpatrick Stockton lawyer representing Cobell, told Main Justice in late January that the settlement did not have any serious opposition.
“The holdup doesn’t have anything to do with our particular legislation,” said Harper. “Both sides have been supportive of this resolution.”
‘There are a lot of moving parts, but both sides agree that this is the right thing to do,” said Harper. “Whether we can continue to extend the deadline is another question, but right now all energies are focused and we’re feeling very good.”
Harper was not immediately available to comment on the latest extension.