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WASHINGTON — A Department of Interior attorney, who revealed extensive mismanagement by his agency of Indian trust fund properties and who faced dismissal for those disclosures under an arcane “Trade Secrets Act,” has left government service after reaching a settlement with the government. The Interior Department’s Office of Solicitor and counsel for Robert McCarthy — who was represented by two groups, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Government Accountability Project — jointly announced the agreement, which “resolves all outstanding cases and controversies between them” and “does not admit any liability or wrongdoing on the part of either party.” Last October, McCarthy, a field solicitor and the chief legal officer in Southern California responsible for overseeing proper management of properties of individual members of Indian tribes held in trust by Interior, was a key witness against the government and his own agency in the multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit, Cobell v. Kempthorne. His testimony contradicted the Interior Department’s central defense that it can accurately account for income from leases it manages on behalf of 300,000 Indian landowners. “Essentially fund collection was on the honor system,” he testified. “They had no proactive way of invoicing payments even when they were in default. I saw files that were years in default and no action was taken to issue even default notices, let alone invoices,” he said. In January, U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled that Interior is incapable of providing a trust accounting to the Cobell plaintiffs. In his ruling, Robertson echoed McCarthy’s testimony, writing that “using something like an honor system, Interior simply relied on lease holders to submit accurate, timely payments.” Last year, an Interior regional solicitor had suggested that McCarthy be fired for violating the Trade Secrets Act, which prohibits the release of “confidential” financial or commercial information, according to PEER. McCarthy will become the new Managing Attorney of the Oklahoma City Law Office for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma. Before entering government service in 1999, he had worked for low income legal aid programs for more than a decade, during which time he also directed Indian law clinics at law schools in Washington and Idaho. “We could not be happier for Robert McCarthy,” stated PEER senior counsel Paula Dinerstein.

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