San Juan County paid nearly $500K to Louisiana law firm to lobby for Bears Ears reductions
Two months before President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument in late 2016, San Juan County hired a New Orleans-based law firm to fight against the designation and later to lobby for the monument’s reduction.
The southeastern Utah county paid $485,600 to Davillier Law Group in 2016 and 2017 to research past monument reductions and to prepare packets of information that were sent to then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, according to itemized billings obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.
That’s no small sum, especially for a county that’s the poorest in the state, with a per capita income of $17,500. San Juan spent more than $2 million on outside legal counsel from 2016 to 2018 as it was mired in at least six lawsuits, the costs of which continue to strain the county budget.
Davillier appears to have stopped charging for Bears Ears lobbying in April 2017, but the county continued to pay the firm for services related to a lawsuit over an ATV trail in Indian Creek and an RS2477 right-of-way claim in Recapture Canyon through June 2018. From 2016 to 2018, the county paid the firm a total of $561,000.
Davillier came under fire in 2016 for its billings to the state when the law firm was investigating whether federal land could be transferred to Utah. Itemized bills showed spending on lavish meals, first-class flights, bar tabs and stays in Salt Lake City’s finest hotels.
Two itemized travel expenses were provided to San Juan County by Davillier in 2017. Each bill includes payment to a subcontractor named Industrial Security Alliance Partners Inc. (ISAP) for “professional services and travel expenses.”
In all the invoices, two travel expenses are itemized, $1,400 for a Delta Air Lines flight and $125 for a night in a Salt Lake City hotel.
It’s unclear what additional travel services were arranged by a ISAP, but Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, said it’s possible Davillier was trying to hide travel costs by charging them to a subcontractor.
“I can’t think of reasons why a law firm would [pay a subcontractor to arrange travel] except to hide travel expenses,” Stevens said. “If you’re a law firm, you’re trying to justify expenses to your clients, so you [typically] list all your expenses to your clients of what you did and why you did it.”