JENNIFER TALHELM Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth was removed today from a 10-year-old lawsuit in which thousands of American Indians claim the government mismanaged billions of dollars in federal trust funds. Siding with the government, a panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that Lamberth had lost his objectivity and ordered the case reassigned to another judge. Lamberth, a Ronald Reagan appointee known for speaking his mind, repeatedly sided with the Indians in their class-action lawsuit. His opinions condemned the government and found interior secretaries Gale Norton and Bruce Babbitt in contempt of court for their handling of the case.
The appellate court reversed Lamberth several times, including the contempt charge against Norton. After a particularly harsh opinion last year, in which Lamberth lambasted the Interior Department as racist, the government petitioned to remove Lamberth, saying he was too biased to continue with the case. Today, in a decision that reversed two more Lamberth rulings, appellate judges said they agreed. “We conclude, reluctantly, that this is one of those rare cases in which reassignment is necessary,” the judges wrote.