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Dennis Gingold’s r�sum� has a lot of features common in Washington, D.C., legal circles. After a brief stint as a regulatory attorney, he went on to ply his banking specialty at several large law offices, including Kirkland & Ellis and Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky. These days, though, Gingold has moved off the beaten path. Now a solo practitioner, he has cobbled together an unlikely litigation team for his one and only current case. As lead counsel for a class of Native Americans seeking billions of dollars in unpaid trust money, Gingold is unraveling a story of neglect and mismanagement that is, in many respects, outrageous. It seems to suit Gingold perfectly. In the six-year court battle with the Interior Department, Gingold, 52, has displayed a confrontational style that many of his opponents say often goes over the line of courtesy. He has also won a remarkable series of court victories. On Feb. 13, Gingold had his adversary in Cobell v. Norton directly in his gun sights, as Interior Secretary Gale Norton testified for four hours in U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth’s packed courtroom in her trial for civil contempt. The charges involve failing to keep Lamberth informed about reform of the trust fund and making false statements to the judge. The fund, administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is supposed to pay as many as 500,000 Native Americans their share of the royalties for grazing, oil extraction and other uses of their land, but it’s widely conceded to be broken almost beyond repair. There were few fireworks last week, as Norton repeatedly acknowledged that the trust had been mismanaged for decades and pledged to do better. But as the case has worn on, Gingold has launched countless personal attacks against Norton, the Interior Department’s staff and the lawyers from the Interior and Justice departments who are defending her. In December, during his opening statement at the Norton contempt trial, he wondered aloud why Norton wasn’t in the courtroom. “Where is the secretary of the interior, who can’t even drive up the street in her limousine?” Gingold asked. “My client, Elouise Cobell, is here, because every day her legacy is being wasted.” Gingold went on to compare Interior’s behavior in the case with the government neglect that caused the starvation death in 1884 of 500 Blackfeet Indians. In his court papers, Gingold refers to the government’s “fraud on the court,” “ludicrous claims,” and “absence of integrity and conscience.” In a Nov. 27, 2001, letter terminating settlement discussions, Gingold didn’t fall back on the usual formalities between opposing counsel when he wrote to a Justice Department lawyer: “This phony settlement process has enabled defendants and their counsel access to … information that is ordinarily denied in discovery. This is now the fifth time that plaintiffs have wasted substantial resources and time on futile and bad faith settlement discussions. This will never happen again.” Says one person close to the case: “That plaintiffs’ lawyer won’t be satisfied until Judge Lamberth locks up the secretary.” Even Lamberth, who has often railed at the government in language nearly as harsh as Gingold’s, may not be ready to do that. In 1999, Lamberth issued a finding of contempt against then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and fined them $630,000, which was paid with taxpayer funds. A similar order against Norton is possible, but jail time is considered unlikely. Closing arguments in the contempt phase of the case, which has taken up 27 trial days over two months, took place Feb. 21. A host of lawyers have been called into the case to represent 39 present or former government officials whom Gingold wants cited for contempt. These lawyers are quietly grumbling about Gingold’s style. Even in cases that involve alleged murderers or mobsters, they say, basic courtesies are observed — but Gingold simply doesn’t care to do so. Last summer, for example, Gingold filed a Rule 11 sanctions motion against Interior official Kenneth Rossman, who works for the Indian trustee’s office, and against Rossman’s lawyer, Christopher Mead of D.C.’s London & Mead. Mead complained that the allegedly improper act was simply the routine filing of an objection to a conclusion of a special master. “Apparently, anytime I write something that plaintiffs’ counsel disagrees with, it is evidence of ‘arrogance’ and ‘bad faith,’” Mead wrote to another lawyer on the case. The motion remains pending. Gingold declined to be interviewed for this article. But it’s clear that his co-counsel and his clients are extremely happy with his work. “Dennis is extraordinarily confrontational,” says Keith Harper, D.C.-based senior staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund and a co-counsel with Gingold on the case. “But when you are dealing with a government that has destroyed documents, repeatedly lied to the court, and acted contemptuously, you want a lawyer who is going to confront them, and Dennis is that lawyer.” Other plaintiffs’ counsel include former U.S. Rep. Elliott Levitas, D-Ga., now of Atlanta’s Kilpatrick Stockton; Thaddeus Holt, a 72-year-old Alabama solo practitioner and appellate expert; and Mark Kester Brown, a Los Angeles litigator. Cobell, the 56-year-old banker from Montana’s Blackfeet tribe who is the case’s lead plaintiff, agrees with plaintiffs’ lawyers that Gingold is effective. “I have never met a lawyer who committed himself more deeply to a case,” says Cobell, who helped fund the case with $8 million in foundation money, including a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. “I thank the Creator for bringing Dennis to me.” BANKING BACKGROUND Gingold originally met Cobell in a very different context. The Seton Hall University Law School graduate was a D.C. banking lawyer who represented Cobell’s small Montana bank in the early 1990s. Even then, Gingold was unconventional. He developed a plan to have banks issue certificates of deposit that carried the tax advantages of annuities, which are usually issued by insurance companies. Cobell’s bank, the Blackfeet National Bank of Browning, Mont., was testing the new product. Bank regulators eventually gave the product a thumbs down. But Cobell, who grew up on a reservation and heard from her parents that Indians had been cheated on the trust fund for generations, told her story to Gingold. He was amazed that no one had ever sued the government. Finally, after years of fruitless negotiation, he filed his class action in 1996. Gingold learned bank regulation as a young lawyer at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in the late 1970s. He joined a small Denver firm and then possibly set a record in the 1980s and 1990s for lateral law firm moves. Gingold joined Kirkland & Ellis’ Denver office and moved to the firm’s D.C. office in 1983. He switched to Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in 1985, Foley Hoag & Eliot in 1988, Ross & Hardies in 1990, and Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky in 1991. There was a reason for all the job changes. Gingold proved to be the wrong type of person for big-firm life, according to lawyers who know him. “Dennis is a creative, entrepreneurial guy,” says a former regulator who knows him well. “The fact that he moved so much reflects that aspect. He’s bright and aggressive. He can drive people crazy. But he’s not a bad guy.” Says a lawyer who tussled with him in the courtroom long before the Indian trust case: “He has the reputation for being an out-of-the-box thinker. But others think he’s a bit of a wild man.” In 1987, as a Squire Sanders partner, Gingold claimed to have discovered a loophole in federal banking law that permitted out-of-town institutions chartered in Washington, D.C., to sell insurance, broker real estate deals and do other things generally prohibited to indigenous banks. He marketed the idea furiously to major Wall Street institutions, incurring the wrath of D.C. banks. But the major banks, fearing litigation or uncertain about Gingold’s idea, never followed his lead. Later, more sweeping legislative changes cleared the path for banks to expand. Gingold’s maverick mentality may not have been well-suited for large, bureaucratic law firms, but he is in his element in Cobell v. Norton. “This has been a case that has required us to put in seven days a week, 150 percent of our available time,” says Harper. “But we are up against the government, which has 40-odd lawyers on the case. And it has been worth it. We have won at every stage.”

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