Attorneys seek $7 million payday from Trust Fund
May 19, 2010 | 1809 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Attorneys who represented Utah Navajos in a decades-old lawsuit are seeking $7 million for their efforts.

If approved, the attorney fees would represent just over 20 percent of the $33 million settlement of the lawsuit, which is pending approval from a federal judge.

A series of public meetings are scheduled to discuss the Pelt vs. State of Utah case and settlement. The case focused on alleged misuse of a trust fund set up to benefit San Juan County Navajos.

San Juan County Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy is concerned about the amount of the legal fees.

“They (attorneys) promised Utah Navajos that the work was pro bono from the beginning,” said Maryboy. “Then they negotiated a $5 million settlement and now it is $7 million.”

The attorneys state that the settlement is fair and they have 18 years of documentation of the costs they incurred while persuing the lawsuit.

They add that the standard settlement fee is 33 percent of the total, or $11 million in this case.

“I understand that attorneys need money, but why should it come from the settlement and not from the state?” asked San Juan County Commissioner Lynn Stevens.

Stevens added that the $7 million could be put to great use. “The Monument Valley health project cost about $7 million,” said Stevens. “If the attorneys walk away with that much it could cost Utah Navajos a project of that size.”

The initial public meeting was scheduled for May 2 at Red Mesa. However, San Juan County Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy reports that the attorneys did not show up for the meeting.

Additional meetings are scheduled for Sunday, June 6 at 10 a.m. at the Navajo Mountain Chapter House, Saturday, June 12 at 2 p.m. at the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding, and Sunday, June 13 at 10 a.m. at the Oljato Chapter House.

The proposed settlement includes $1 million in 2010, $5 million in 2011, $13.5 million in 2012 and $13.5 million in 2013. The lawsuit initially sought $150 million for Utah Navajos.

The agreement settles all claims made that the trust fund was misused before 1992.

After attorney fees are paid, the remaining portion would be placed in the Utah Navajo Trust Fund.

The State of Utah managed the trust fund from 1992 until recently. A resolution under consideration would create a new organization to manage the funds, which are generated by the legal settlement and from the ongoing royalties from a number of oil wells on the Utah portion of the Navajo Reservation.
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