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A U.S. Court of Appeals panel of judges has agreed to grant an appeal made by both American Indian landowners and the Interior Department as part of a 12-year-long lawsuit, supposedly brought to an end in a federal court ruling this summer.

It was announced Friday that three circuit judges agreed to grant hearings in the Cobell vs. Kempthorne lawsuit.

Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff from Browning, said she hoped the Court of Appeals would expedite the date for both sides to make oral arguments because "too many people have been dying," she said, referring to elders represented in the class action suit who will never receive their share of a monetary settlement.

An Interior Department spokesman was not available for comment.

Lawyers for landowners and the government filed appeals in August after both disagreed with a final ruling made by U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson in which he ordered a $455.6 million restitution award to Indian landowners. The Interior Department's trust fund management system has been the subject of harsh reviews by Congress and in thousands of pages of court filings.

Robertson presided over the Cobell restitution trial for nearly two weeks in June, during which time lawyers argued Indian landholders were owed as much as $48 billion.

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Government lawyers appeal-ed the case, claiming Robertson lacked jurisdiction to award any money in a settlement to landowners.

Cobell lawyers argued that the judge failed to follow U.S. Supreme Court precedent in two major Indian trust cases, including the White Mountain Apache and Mitchell rulings. They also will argue in their appeal that an award settlement should include at least 120 years of interest payments.

Contact reporter Jodi Rave at jodi.rave@lee.net or 800-366-7186.

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