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Trial lawyers working at Main Justice and the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office have hundreds of cases pending before Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. So court watchers say the Justice Department must have been feeling pretty desperate when it filed a motion in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week to remove Lamberth from overseeing a massive class action against the government over mismanaged Indian trust funds. The government’s Aug. 15 motion in Cobell v. Norton claims that harsh language in Lamberth’s rulings creates an appearance of bias. Arnold & Porter partner Robert Litt, a senior DOJ official during the Clinton administration, calls the motion very unusual. “The Justice Department can’t avoid a judge forever so they have to really take into account the long-term consequences,” Litt says. Federal appeals courts do occasionally grant motions to reassign cases on remand. In the Microsoft antitrust suit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the case to be transferred twice � first from Judge Stanley Sporkin to Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, and then from Jackson to Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. In Microsoft, however, the court’s actions were at the urging of the software giant, not the government. Keith Harper, a lawyer with the Native American Rights Fund, says plaintiffs in the Indian trust case will oppose the government’s motion and seek financial sanctions. “This goes to the continuing pattern of defendants attempting to undermine the integrity of the judicial process,” Harper says. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Vanessa Blum can be contacted at [email protected].

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