The Interior Department's inspector general has issued a report
criticizing the way department lawyers arranged a controversial
settlement with a Wyoming rancher accused of violating a host
of federal grazing laws while William G. Myers III was the
department's top attorney.
Myers is among seven lawyers President Bush renominated to
the federal bench this week after their nominations were blocked
by Senate filibuster.
The inspector general's report has prompted renewed questions
over Myers' bid to sit on the San Francisco-based U.S. 9th
Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers more environmental
cases than any other federal appeals court.
Last year, Myers' nomination was filibustered after more
than 180 environmental, Native American and civil rights organizations
came out against him, saying his record as a private lawyer
and as solicitor of the Interior Department from 2001 to 2003
demonstrated a record of hostility to environmental protections
and tribal concerns that made it clear he could not be impartial
as a judge.
His supporters replied that Myers was a fine candidate and
that he was the victim of obstructionist tactics by Democrats
and liberal interest groups.
The latest criticism stems from the intervention of Myers'
office in actions brought by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management
against a cattle rancher cited for alleged repeated trespasses
of his livestock on federal land, resulting in overgrazing,
the government said.
In a letter dated Thursday, Earl Devaney, the Interior Department's
inspector general, said the solicitor's office "circumvented"
normal negotiation processes, kept the BLM out of the negotiations,
ignored concerns about the settlement raised by the Justice
Department and engaged "in an inappropriate level of
programmatic involvement" in the settlement talks.
The settlement, reached in 2002, excused rancher Harvey Frank
Robbins from 16 trespassing violations and specified that
only the director of the BLM could cite him for future violations,
not the local office in Worland, Wyo., or the state office
in Cheyenne, as would normally be the case.
In addition, the agreement gave Robbins a new grazing allotment,
"additional flexibility" over certain federal lands,
rights of way across federal lands, a special recreational
permit to run a dude ranch and a promise to facilitate a land
exchange. The agreement was reached after Robbins met with
ranking officials of the BLM in Washington.
He said in an interview last year that he had sought the
meeting because he was being treated unfairly by BLM employees
By that point, Robbins had filed a suit in federal court
in Cheyenne, asserting that BLM employees had violated federal
racketeering laws in their dealings with him. The employees
are being defended by the Justice Department, and the suit
The settlement negotiated by Myers' office was opposed by
the U.S. attorney's office and BLM officials, who said it
was inappropriate for an individual who had been cited repeatedly
for grazing violations and that it would undermine enforcement
of range management rules.
In addition, Thomas D. Roberts, the assistant U.S. attorney
in Cheyenne who was representing the BLM employees at the
time, said he had advised attorneys from Myers' staff that
any settlement with Robbins should require him to drop his
racketeering suit. Roberts, who is now an attorney for the
Wyoming State Board of Equalization, said in an interview
that his advice was rejected. He refused to sign the settlement.
In January 2004, the Interior Department voided the settlement,
saying that Robbins had violated its terms. In turn, Robbins
sued the agency, and that case, too, is pending in federal
court in Cheyenne.
Inspector General Devaney issued a report on the settlement
in November 2003, which said that Myers was personally briefed
on the status of the deal.
Myers was questioned briefly about the Robbins settlement
during his judicial nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary
Committee last February. In response to a question from Sen.
Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Myers said, "I was not involved
in the negotiations or discussions of that settlement, other
than to tell a subordinate attorney that he had authority
to try to settle that case."
He also said he did not approve the settlement. He added
that he did not ask for a copy of the agreement until six
months later, after press reports in Wyoming suggested the
settlement may have been illegal. Myers testified that he
then conducted an investigation of the settlement, but he
not did state what his conclusions were.
Myers has represented mining and grazing interests for years
and now works for a law firm in Boise, Idaho. From 1993 to
1997, he was executive director of the Public Lands Council,
a trade group that advocates for ranchers who graze cattle
and sheep on public lands.
Neither Myers nor Robbins' attorney had any comment Tuesday.
Devaney's latest report, which has not been released, was
summarized in a letter he sent to Jeff Ruch, executive director
of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. An assistant
to Devaney said the report would be made public soon.
In his letter, Devaney said that the inspector general's
office remained concerned "about the manner in which
the settlement agreement was conceived, negotiated and crafted."
On Tuesday, Ruch and attorneys for two other environmental
organizations, EarthJustice and Community Rights Counsel,
faxed a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of
the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging him to hold further
hearings on Myers because of the inspector general's latest
On Tuesday night, an aide to Specter said that the committee
would hold hearings on Myers the first week of March.
Two weeks ago, Specter told the weekly conservative magazine
Human Events that he did not plan any hearings for any of
the judicial candidates whom Bush had renominated. "There
would have to be an exceptional circumstance that would require
a hearing. We've already had hearings."
Specter's aide said Tuesday that the senator had not decided
to hold the hearing in response to the environmentalists'
appeals but in an effort "to improve the atmosphere"
on the highly fractious committee.