WASHINGTON, DC, February
24, 2005 (ENS): A deal forged by the Interior Department's
Office of the Solicitor to settle alleged grazing violations of
a Wyoming rancher was improper but the chief of that office was
not at fault, according to a report by the department's Inspector
The report clears former Interior Solicitor General William Myers
- a controversial federal appellate court nominee - of wrongdoing,
but critics say it raises more questions than it answers.
The Idaho lawyer is one of a dozen Bush administration judicial
nominees blocked by Senate Democrats. Earlier this month the White
House renominated the former mining and cattle industry lobbyist
to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Myers served as the Interior Department's top lawyer from 2001
through May 2003, when he returned to the law firm where he worked
prior to his tenure at the federal agency.
In a statement released Tuesday, Interior Inspector General Earl
Devaney "expressed his hope that [the report] will dispel the
criticisms directed at [Myers]."
"A fair reading of the report would suggest that Myers was,
in fact, victimized when he was given a distorted explanation by
one of his senior Associate Solicitors," according to the statement.
The January 2003 deal approved by Myers centers on 16 grazing violations
allegedly committed by Wyoming rancher Frank Robbins.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials in Wyoming issued
Robbins a slew of trespass and grazing notices violations for damage
to public lands, and in the mid-1990s the complaints prompted the
office to deny the rancher a permit renewal.
In response Robbins filed a civil complaint in federal court in
1998, seeking $12 million in damages, for alleged harassment and
attempted blackmail by BLM employees.
The settlement, which has been terminated due to breach by Robbins,
would have forgiven the violations, limited future penalties for
similar violations and granted Robbins other favorable terms, including
a new grazing allotment and increased control over some federal
It would also have allowed Robbins to move forward with his suit
against the BLM, even though an independent review team determined
Wyoming BLM field officials had followed the law.
The "conduct chronicled in this report cries out for administrative
action," according to Devaney, and put "the Department
at unnecessary litigation risk, as well as in a position of potential
But the report fails to fully explain how the settlement was forged.
The investigation by the Interior Department's Inspector General
ultimately "could not determine what motivated senior BLM officials
to propose and advance the idea of a settlement between Robbins
and BLM," Devaney wrote.
There are many accounts that indicate BLM chief Kathleen Clarke
recommended pursuing a deal with Robbins, "although she, alone,
does not recall doing so," Devaney wrote in a memo accompanying
Clarke removed herself from the process, according to the report,
and instructed BLM Deputy Director Frances Cherry to pursue the
Devaney says Cherry "appears to have conducted himself without
concern for the implications a settlement agreement would have on
the BLM rangeland program and without regard for the objections
raised by his career subordinates."
The report, dated October 13, 2004 but made public this week, also
blames attorneys with the Office of the Solicitor - in particular
Associate Solicitor Bob Comer.
There is ample evidence to "sustain the contention that Mr.
Comer failed to act impartially and gave preferential treatment
to Mr. Robbins in negotiating and crafting the settlement agreement,"
Despite Devaney's public plea that critics of Myers put this issue
to rest, the report has failed to satisfy some concerned with the
conduct of the former Interior Solicitor General.
Attorney Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility, which represents natural resources
employees with all levels of government, says the report targets
"obscure middle managers while shielding higher-ups who gave
Ruch notes that in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee
last year, Myers said he told "a subordinate attorney that
he had authority to settle the case" but did not review the
agreement before it was signed.
Myers also testified "after the settlement was signed, press
reports came out with statements that it was perhaps illegal ...
I asked for a copy of the agreement."
But after an internal review determined there were problems with
the agreement, Ruch said, Myers did not move to revoke the agreement
or reprimand his subordinate - and the report fails to explain his
"The best that can be said about William Myers' role in this
matter is that he was inattentive and indifferent," added Ruch.
"Given Myers' role as a former lobbyist for the public lands
livestock industry, he had a duty to make sure this deal passed
the smell test - a duty that he admittedly shirked."
More than 180 conservation groups, Native American tribes, and
other public interest organizations actively oppose Myers nomination
to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Myers' environmental record is considered central to the debate
over his qualifications and independence because of the key role
the 9th Circuit Court plays in environmental issues.
The court hears cases from nine Western states - where environmental
law concerning more than 485 million acres of public lands is decided.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to reconsider Myers'
nomination to the court next month.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All Rights Reserved.