Thursday, December 10, 2009

Federal Government Settles 13 Years-Long Class Action Lawsuit Filed by American Indians

        The National Law Journal reports that the Cobell Litigation started 13 years ago (on June 10, 1996) has settled.  The lead plaintiff, Elouise Cobell, initiated the class action lawsuit to force the federal government to account for what she (and others) argued were billions of mismanaged dollars supposedly held in trust for American Indians.  The trust funds were initially set up under the controversial Dawes Act of 1887 (also known, as the General Allotment Act), a law dating back more than 100 hundred years.  Historically, the Act was responsible for substantial land loss by American Indians.  More than two-thirds of the land held in 1887 by American Indians was transferred to whites during the 47-year history of the Act.  The Act was designed to de-emphasize communal ownership of land and to assimilate American Indians into individual land ownership.  The Act, in relevant part, required that the federal government hold lands alloted to individual American Indians in trust (unless, the American Indian was deemed competent to self-manage the land) and to account for funds generated by the lease of those lands for grazing and the extraction of oil, mineral and timber.  Under the paternalistic law (its amendments and successor legislation), the federal government is to act as a fiduciary for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of American Indians. This summer the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated a trial court decision entered in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Judge James Robertson that held that it was "impossible" to account for these funds, awarding the arbitrary sum of $455 million to the plaintiffs.  The plaintiffs were suing for billions. 

        U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, standing with Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar, remarked before reporters at the Department of the Interior on Tuesday, December 8, that, "settlement talks [had] failed repeatedly over 13 years, '[b]ut today, we turn the page.'" Secretary Salazar wasted no time; he issued a departmental order yesterday, December 9, implementing the first phases of the settlement (click here).  President Obama is said to have "urged Congress to 'act swiftly to correct this long-standing injustice and to remember that no special appropriations are required.'"

        The story is excerpted below.

Capping more than 13 years of litigation, the Obama administration said Tuesday the government will pay $1.4 billion to settle a class action accusing the United States of mismanaging billions of dollars held in trust for American Indians.

The settlement would resolve the plaintiffs' claims for an accounting of the trust fund, set up more than a century ago for the collection and dispersal of royalties from oil, gas, timber and other companies that leased Indian land. The agreement requires legislative and judicial approval.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 1996 by Elouise Cobell, the class is one of the largest-ever in the nation's history. The $1.4 billion, which includes attorney fees, would be dispersed to the more than 300,000 American Indians who comprise the class. The settlement also creates a $2 billion fund for the voluntary buyback and consolidation of what government officials called "fractionated" land interests. Individual Indians will have the chance to receive payment for divided interest in land. The government would terminate the administrative costs associated with managing the fractioned land.

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., addressing reporters at the Interior Department on Tuesday, said settlement talks failed repeatedly over 13 years, "But today, we turn the page." Holder appeared alongside Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

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Settlement talks ramped up after a ruling in July in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit put the case back before the trial court. At issue on appeal was whether the government could ever adequately perform a historical accounting of the money held in trust for more than a century. Last year, Judge James Robertson of the federal trial court in Washington ruled such an accounting was impossible. He ordered the government to pay $455 million to the plaintiffs, an amount that was a far cry from the billions the plaintiffs had been seeking. A three-judge appellate panel vacated Robertson's decision.

"While we vacate the district court's orders, including its holding of impossibility, we do so with substantial sympathy, recognizing that our precedents do not clearly point to any exit from this complicated legal morass," D.C. Circuit Chief Judge David Sentelle wrote in the July 24 appellate opinion.

For the full story, please click here.  Here is a link to key litigation documents, please click here.

        In addition to the $1.4 billion settlement to be paid out to individuals and the $2 billion fund for voluntary buyback and consolidation of fractionated land interests, the settlement also provides for the creation of an Indian Education Scholarship fund of up to $60 million to improve access to higher education for American Indians.


December 10, 2009 in Federal – Judicial, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Survey Reveals that 93 percent of Charities feel Negative Impact of Recession

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported that the nonprofit consulting group, Bridgespan Group, a Boston 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps other nonprofits develop strategies for sustained growth updated a 2008 study and released its findings providing that 93 percent of charities report feeling the negative impact of the recession.  The story is excerpted below:

The stock market may be rebounding, but for charities the negative impact of the recession has only deepened over the past year, according to a survey released by the Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit consulting group in Boston, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.

For the full story, please click here.

December 8, 2009 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Researchers Advocate Direct Donations to Extended Families Caring for Orphaned Children in African Nation

The New York Times recently reported that researchers at Boston University are studying the effectiveness of making direct donations to extended family members willing to care for orphaned children in their homes instead of removing these children to orphanages.  Some experts and advocates suggest that the orphanages are expensive and potentially harmful for children because the children are separated from their extended families.  Some advocates even claim that the orphanages are being built to lure financial donations from around the world.  "Researchers say donors need to weed out ineffective, misconceived programs, scrutinizing those that are managed by international nongovernmental organizations or governments but reliant on volunteers in villages to do the work."

The story reports that a study of African households reveals that the vast majority of orphaned African children are being cared for by extended families, and that these families receive no help.  The story is partially excerpted below:

The Home of Hopeorphanage provides Chikodano Lupanga, 15, with three nutritious meals a day, new school uniforms, sensible black shoes and a decent education.

Her orphaned cousin Jean, 11, who balked at entering the orphanage and lives with her grown sister, has no shoes, raggedy clothes and an often-empty belly. Repeating third grade for the third time, Jean said she bitterly regretted that she did not grow up in the orphanage where Madonna adopted a boy. Had she stayed, she whispered, “I would have learned to read.”

In a country as desperately poor as Malawi, children placed in institutions are often seen as the lucky ones. But even as orphanages have sprung up across Africa with donations from Western churches and charities, the families who care for the vast majority of the continent’s orphans have gotten no help at all, household surveys show.

Researchers now say a far better way to assist these bereft children is with simple allocations of cash — $4 to $20 a month in an experimental program under way here in Malawi — given directly to the destitute extended families who take them in. That program could provide grants to eight families looking after some two dozen children for the $1,500 a year it costs to sponsor one child at the Home of Hope, estimated Candace M. Miller, a Boston University professor and a lead researcher in the project.

Experts and child advocates maintain that orphanages are expensive and often harm children’s development by separating them from their families. Most of the children living in institutions around the world have a surviving parent or close relative, and they most commonly entered orphanages because of poverty, according to new reports by Unicef and Save the Children.

“Because there’s money in orphanages, people are creating them and getting children in them,” said Dr. Biziwick Mwale, executive director of Malawi’s National AIDS Commission.

For the full story, please click here.


December 8, 2009 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Charity Governance Squabble in the News

The Boston Globe recently reported in an article entitled, Nightmare at the Museum, that the director of a prominent museum, The Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art,resigned (or was ousted, it depends on who you talk to) from her position as director of the museum.  It is reported that John Maeda, the new president of the affiliated school of the same name, The Rhode Island School of Design, seemingly clashed with the outgoing director.  The squabble raises the question of the role charity governance  and the board of trustees play in quelling such disputes before donor relations are disrupted, organizational missions are compromised and public loyalties wane.  The story is excerpted below, in relevant part:

They were 200 of this city’s biggest names in arts and philanthropy, gathered on an early fall night to celebrate Hope Alswang, the departing head of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art.

.  .  .

After all, Alswang was leaving after a feud with the new president - a tense battle that left them both smarting, and many more, on campus and off, wondering how things got out of hand so quickly and what it all means for one of the cultural jewels of the city and region.

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Few there knew what had really happened between Maeda, who started at RISD last year, and Alswang, who had been at the museum for four years. Her public resignation occurred only weeks after a private letter from the president labeled “final warning.’’ At the tribute dinner, held at a historic venue called, as it happens, the Hope Club, observers wondered whether Maeda understood how many people would be upset by the loss.

.  .  .

The new president had taken office at RISD on a wave of positive buzz, a daring and exciting choice. Proudly declaring in interviews that he did not own a suit, Maeda, then 42, had a Mensa-worthy résumé, capped by a stint as associate director of research at the prestigious MIT Media Lab. Esquire magazine had named him one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century.

But Maeda and his museum director clashed from the start; their personal styles could not have been more discordant. Alswang, tough and sarcastic, knew how to work a cocktail party. Maeda, slight and cerebral, seemed more comfortable Tweeting than speaking.

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Indeed, tension between the museum and school didn’t start with these leaders. Some professors were pleased that Maeda was taking a harder line with the museum.

“We have a new museum building on our campus that cost a hell of a lot of money and that took the attention away from maintaining buildings and raising money for financial aid,’’ said Henry Ferreira, printmaking professor and president of the faculty association.

But the blowup between Maeda and Alswang seems to be as much about personal temperament as professional mission.

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“It came to the point where they just couldn’t get along and the disagreements weren’t helping anyone,’’ said Paula Granoff, a museum donor who has served on RISD’s board of trustees and currently is a member of the museum’s board of governors.

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Her supporters say the rift with Maeda went beyond personality and stemmed, in part, from the school’s financial crisis.

The financial meltdown hit RISD’s endowment hard, and Alswang believed Maeda wanted to cut disproportionately from the museum, according to a museum staff member speaking anonymously because the staff had been ordered by RISD not to discuss Alswang.

In the end, this staff member said, Alswang fought to reduce the amount cut from the museum’s budget, though ultimately it had to close for all of August to save money.

For the full story, please click here.


December 7, 2009 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UCLA Medical School Professor Settles Lawsuit and Agrees to Repay Charity

The Los Angeles Times reported on December 4, 2009 that "[a] UCLA School of Medicine professor of cardiothoracic surgery has settled a lawsuit brought by the state attorney general forcing him to repay $140,000 to a research charity he founded and removing him from multiple positions he held within the charity."

For the full story, please click here.


December 7, 2009 in In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Kenya—Harmonized Draft Constitution Recognizes Broad Freedom of Association Rights

A long-awaited draft constitution has been released in Kenya, the first step in a full review of a document which many Kenyans say gives the president nearly unchecked power over state affairs.  Kenyans have been calling for a new constitution since the early 1990s to replace one dating back to the eve of independence from Britain in 1963, which critics say encourages corruption and tribalism because of the president's immense powers.  The public will have 30 days to scrutinize the draft and forward proposal and amendments to their respective Members of Parliament.  A referendum on the Constitution is expected to be held in 2010 to determine whether the new constitution is acceptable.  Article 53, which provides for freedom of association, deals not only with the basic requirements of freedom of associations for individuals, but also addresses the need to provide ease of registration for civil society organizations.  The text is available in the ICCSL Documentation Center.



December 7, 2009 in International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)