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U.S. District Judge James Robertson was randomly assigned Cobell v. Norton in 2006, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit removed Judge Royce Lamberth from the case for overstepping the bounds of judicial objectivity. One of the largest-ever class actions against the United States, Cobell was brought 11 years ago by American Indians seeking relief, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, for the government’s failure to manage a land trust set up for them in the late 19th century. Robertson slew it in a year. In a 165-page opinion issued last week, Robertson concluded that the Interior Department is incapable of performing an accurate accounting of the land trust fund. He set a date — about 30 days from now — for a hearing to determine, once and for all, what remedy the plaintiffs are entitled to. Robertson’s finale is worth the price of the 162 pages it takes to get there: “[The suit] has been on my docket for one year, during which time I have dismissed persons who were still �parties in [the suit] without knowing how or why,’ resolved dozens of motions, enforced an attorneys’ fee award that pre-dated the invasion of Iraq, and studied the case enough to be among the few people �alive [who] know what it means.’ �Innumerable children have been born into the cause,’ and, as plaintiffs have reminded us on occasion, �innumerable old [plaintiffs] have died out of it.’?” Robertson, known for his dispatch and efficiency, concludes: “[A] remedy must be found for the Department’s unrepaired, and irreparable, breach of its fiduciary duty over the last century. And it does mean that the time has come to bring this suit to a close.”
Joe Palazzolo can be contacted at [email protected].

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