Public lands lawyers billed Utah for luxury flights, hotels
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Lawyers hired to help Utah prepare a $14 million lawsuit against the federal government for control of public lands billed the state for first-class airfare, stays at luxury hotels and steakhouse meals, according to invoices flagged Wednesday by a watchdog group.
The expenses were submitted over the past year by legal consultants from New Orleans and San Diego who were hired by Utah lawmakers on a public lands commission.
The Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands has been working on a conservative push to take control of millions of acres of federal land. It hired the consultants last summer to help prepare a lawsuit that’s expected to be filed sometime in 2017.
Some expenses, such as first-class airfare, appear to violate the consultants’ contracts with the commission.
Anne Weismann, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Accountability, said the expenses flagged by her group show sloppy accounting at best and a serious abuse of taxpayer funds at worst.
“Either way, Utah taxpayers deserve a full accounting of the expenses,” Weismann said in a statement. “If there is a good reason for these lawyers to bill the state of Utah for luxury hotels, let’s hear it.”