Sunday, May 16, 2010

Plaintiffs' lawyers in Navajo case seek $7 million

Plaintiffs' attorneys in a federal lawsuit that resulted in a proposed $33 million settlement for Utah's Navajo Indians are asking for $7 million in legal fees and court costs — an amount that apparently has caught some by surprise.

Four lawyers are seeking payment for work during the past two decades on the case, which alleges state mismanagement of the Utah Navajo Trust Fund. While the attorneys' bill is equivalent to 21 percent of the proposed award, they note the normal rate for such contingency cases is 33 percent.

"We haven't been paid for 18 years," said attorney Brian Barnard of Salt Lake City. "I, personally, have not heard any complaints."

The bills are itemized so plaintiffs can see exactly all the time and expenses involved since 1991, Barnard said.

Barnard and attorneys John Pace, Parker Nielson and Alan Taradash mailed notices to 11,000 Navajo beneficiaries to explain the settlement and legal bills. Meetings will be held in coming weeks to answer plaintiffs' questions, Barnard said.

Mark Maryboy, a Navajo and former San Juan County commissioner, said his original understanding dating back to 1991 was that the legal work would be pro bono. But when the settlement agreement was reached in January, Utah Navajos were told legal fees and costs would equal $5 million.

"I was OK with the $5 million," Maryboy said. "As far as the $7 million, I really don't understand. I would have to ask some questions."

The settlement and legal fees must be approved by U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell. A hearing on the matter is set for June 29.

The lawsuit alleges Utah failed to properly manage an oil-and-gas royalty trust set up by Congress in 1933 to provide for Navajos living in Utah's San Juan County.

The fund took in royalties from oil production on Navajo lands. Utah was left in charge of managing disbursements and investments.

Utah Navajos collected 37.5 percent of the royalty, with the remaining 62.5 percent going to the tribe, headquarterd at Window Rock, Ariz.

By Associated Press

Source: Deseret News

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