WASHINGTON -- Washington Rep. Doc Hastings has subpoenaed the plaintiffs' lawyers handling the $3.4 billion settlement in a class action lawsuit over the federal government's mismanagement of American Indian trust accounts.
At issue are the $223 million in fees the lawyers want from the plaintiffs per a contingency fee agreement they say was made with their clients.
Hastings, acting as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over American Indian relations, believes the fees are excessive and wants to see the agreement, a spokesman said.
"Every dollar that the attorneys collect is coming out of the pocket of these individual Indians," Spencer Pederson, spokesman for the Natural Resources Committee, said.
The terms of the settlement assert no more than $99.9 million in fees can be taken, but the issue will ultimately be decided by a federal judge.
Dennis Gingold, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, told a blogger for Legal Times that the attorneys have not responded to the subpoenas because they touch on attorney-client confidentiality issues.
"We agree with the Justice Department that the matter is before a United States district court and the committee does not have jurisdiction over these issues," Gingold told the Legal Times.
U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., the ranking democrat on the committee, called the subpoenas "a partisan, personal attack" on the attorneys.
"This action, taken without prior notice or approval of the committee, and without any consultation with the minority, raises serious questions of decorum, undermines the legitimacy of any future investigation into these matters, and could threaten to destroy pending settlement of a century-old pattern of abuse of Native Americans by the United States government," Markey told the Legal Times.