The Osage Nation’s attorneys are “hopeful” that the Nation’s nine-year-old Trust lawsuit against the U.S. government might be nearing an end.
“Our goal is to get a judgment or settlement as quickly as we can,” said Wilson Pipestem, the Nation’s attorney for the case, at a trust update meeting June 11 at the Wahzhazhi Cultural Center. “I’m very optimistic . . . I’m hopeful that this could happen within the year.”
The Nation is suing the U.S. government for 140 years of mismanagement of the Nation’s oil royalty payments and other alleged malfeasance in which the Nation is asking for $310 million in actual damages. The Nation’s attorneys are asking to settle because they don’t want the case to drag out for years in a trial court when elders in the Nation are waiting for the money.
“If we slog it out in court then it could be years,” Pipestem said. “If there’s a settlement it could be one to two years.”
Judge Emily Hewitt of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims has divided the case into three phases. Phase 1 covered the tribe’s mismanagement claim against the Bureau of Indian Affairs and now the Nation is in phase 1.5.
In March 2007, Judge Hewitt ruled that the BIA was liable for $1.8 million for the mismanagement of five oil leases over a four-month period, and that it routinely kept large amounts of cash in banks instead of putting that money in interest-bearing Certificates of Deposit or Treasury Bills, as the BIA’s own rules required, according to The Bigheart Times.
In phase 1.5 the judge is now applying the phase 1 rulings to the period from 1972-2000 to all the Nation’s oil leases.
“We feel good about what we’ve filed,” Pipestem said at the meeting. “It’s based on extensive data,” which is a day by day breakdown of the oil leases from 1972-2000.
Once the Nation reaches phase 2, the judge will be looking at the entire 140 years that the Nation claims oil royalty payments were mismanaged, well before 1906.
Many people at the June 11 meeting asked Pipestem repeatedly the question of who owns the Osage mineral estate: the shareholders or the Osage Nation. Pipestem’s answer: the Osage Nation.
“The Osage Minerals Trust has always been tribally owned, that was never allotted, the surface lands were allotted, not the minerals trust,” Pipestem said. “Our tribal leaders in the past did a good thing by preserving it from being allotted. It kept the mineral estate in tribal ownership.”
Questions on attorney fees were also asked in which the attorneys representing the Nation will receive less than 5 percent of the judgment. So far the attorneys have not received payment for fighting the case, the Nation has only paid their expenses. The attorney’s contracts are public documentation.
Minus attorney fees, the judgment would amount to roughly $139,000 per headright. How the judgment will be distributed will be ultimately decided by Judge Hewitt. Currently 25 percent of shareholders are non-Osage but the Fletcher case is seeking to change that.