County legal bills continue to grow, nearly $2 million in 2016 and 2017
Feb 06, 2018 | 1510 views | 0 0 comments | 545 545 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Bill Boyle

San Juan County has paid outside legal counsel nearly $2 million in the past two years.

While the bulk of the legal fees have been to fight three separate lawsuits related to voting rights issues, other legal challenges to the county have added to the tally.

In 2016 and 2017, the total legal bills related to the voting rights lawsuits were nearly $900,000. The county had previously spent more than $250,000 on the case, which was initially filed in federal court in 2012.

Other “professional and technical fees” paid by the county over the past two years include $561,535 related to Bears Ears National Monument, $320,146 related to other public lands issues, $122,746 related to the Latigo Wind Farm, and $18,766 related to law enforcement issues.

The county paid more than $550,000 to Davillier Law Group for efforts to fight the designation of Bears Ears National Monument. More than 1.35-million acres of public land in San Juan County was designated as a monument by President Barack Obama in December, 2016. On December 4, 2017, President Donald Trump decreased the size of the monument by more than 85 percent.

The public lands expenses include ongoing litigation with the BLM regarding resource management plans, RS-2477 roads, and Title V rights-of-way in Recapture Canyon. The county is partnering with Kane County and the State of Utah on some of the issues.

San Juan County was sued for the public planning process related to the approval of the Latigo Wind Farm north of Monticello.

The law enforcement expenses are related to the charges filed by the Utah Attorney General against Sheriff Rick Eldredge and two deputies. The charges have been dismissed and the county expects to be reimbursed for the expenses by the State of Utah.

These totals do not include other expenses related to issues faced by the county, including the cost of other lobbying efforts, marketing efforts, and public relations firms.

Legal expenses related to the voting rights lawsuits will continue to accrue in 2018. Federal Judge Robert Shelby recently approved a redrawing of voting districts within San Juan County. That decision is being appealed by the county to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

A trial for the third voting rights lawsuit is set to take place in coming weeks before Judge Shelby. This lawsuit has to do with elections carried out by vote-by-mail ballots.

The Special Master appointed by the federal court to redraw the voting districts recently submitted a $75,000 bill to San Juan County for his work. Dr. Bernard Grofman was paid $350 an hour and the county was billed $200 an hour for the work of his graduate student intern.

In addition, now the county may be forced to pay $3 million more to its legal opponents.

Attorneys representing the Navajo Nation in the voting rights lawsuits have submitted a request that San Juan County pay more than $3 million in legal fees.

Legal expenses are an ongoing expense of doing business in a litigious environment. However, the fees for outside legal counsel have increased over time. In the ten years between 2008 and 2017, San Juan County paid nearly $3 million in legal fees.

The fees have varied, ranging from a low of $19,118 in 2010 to $1,085,184 in 2017.
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