EASTON Easton resident David Smith, an attorney with Kilpatrick Townsend, and several law partners recently resolved lawsuits brought by three Native American tribes against the U.S. government for almost $40 million.
The attorneys represented the Tohono O'odham Nation, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Arizona and the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine.
On April 11, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Attorney General Eric Holder announced the settlement of lawsuits filed separately by 41 federally recognized tribes against the United States, including the Tohono O'odham, the Maricopa and the Passamaquoddy.
The tribes alleged that the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Treasury had mismanaged monetary assets and natural resources held in trust by the United States for the benefit of the tribes.
The announcement followed a 22-month negotiation between the tribes and the U.S., and concluded with settlements between the government and tribes totaling more than $1 billion.
A judge signed the settlement order on Tuesday, May 22, said Smith, who lives in Cook's Hope. Several individuals have filed appeals, but Smith said it looks like those appeals will be exhausted soon and monetary disbursements will begin.
Smith and his wife moved here in 2010. His wife, Jana Leslie, is the contemporary music director at Christ Church in Easton.
For more than a century, the federal government has held Native American tribal and individual funds and other assets in trust, to be managed for their benefit. Congress described that trust system as fraught with "fraud, corruption and institutional incompetence almost beyond the possibility of comprehension."
"It was one of those cases where the merits are so strong," said Smith. "It's gratifying to see a very favorable resolution."
Smith and a team of attorneys also litigated against the government as part of a class-action lawsuit involving 500,000 individual Native Americans across the country seeking an accounting of individual Indian trust assets and restitution for funds improperly withheld.
After 13 years of litigation, the lawsuit, Cobell v. Salazar, was settled for $3.4 billion in December 2009 and was approved by Congress in December 2010. It was approved by the federal district court for the District of Columbia in 2011.
According to the terms of the $3.4 billion settlement, $1.4 billion is allocated to plaintiffs in the suit and up to $2 billion is allocated for re-purchase of lands distributed under the Dawes Act.
President Barack Obama signed legislation authorizing government funding for the $3.4 billion settlement in December 2010. Judge Thomas Hogan oversaw a fairness hearing on the settlement in the spring of 2011. It was approved by the federal district court and is currently on appeal.
Before taking on the Native American litigation, Smith said he specialized in construction and business law.
"My plans are to return to construction and business litigation and hopefully hang around Easton and not travel so much," he said.