A federal judge in D.C. on Monday endorsed a $3.4 billion settlement for hundreds of thousands of American Indians whose trust accounts were mismanaged by the federal government, marking the end to the 15-year-old Cobell suit.
The Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder made it a priority to settle the Cobell suit, which needed Congressional and court approval.
In December 2009, the DOJ and lawyers for the American Indians reached a settlement on the suit. About a year later, Congress approved the deal, and President Barack Obama signed the settlement into law. The final step was U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan’s endorsement Monday.
“The judge’s finding that the settlement is fair and reasonable is a major milestone in the Administration’s effort to reach a resolution of litigation that has cast a cloud over the government’s relationship with American Indians,” Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli said in a statement.
At least 300,000 American Indian account holders will each receive at least $1,000 of the $1.5 billion set aside for them, according to The Associated Press. Funds amounting to $1.9 billion will go toward the re-purchase and consolidation of tribal land and an American Indian scholarship fund will receive $60 million, the Associated Press said.
The remaining $99 million will go to the Cobell lawyers, according to the news service. The lawyers had demanded about $223 million in legal fees and the government sought $50 million for them.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that the much higher number was necessary to cover the work they put into the case since 1996. Dennis Gingold, the lawyer for Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the case, said he hasn’t received any money for his work on the case in more than 10 years, according to the AP.
At the court hearing Monday, Margie Eder, an American Indian, was unsympathetic.
“Lord God rebukes you, because you want to line your pockets by robbing people of that which is not yours to take,” Eder said, according to the AP.