Interior Department Inspector General Earl E. Devaney absolved former department solicitor William G. Myers III of blame in a case involving a January 2003 legal settlement between the Bureau of Land Management and a Wyoming rancher.
In a 24-page report made public yesterday but dated Oct. 13, Devaney criticized the conduct of BLM Deputy Director Frances Cherry, Associate Solicitor Robert Comer and an unnamed lawyer in the solicitor's office for reaching the settlement with rancher Harvey Frank Robbins despite written objections from the Justice Department, the U.S. attorney's office in Cheyenne, Wyo., and career BLM staffers.
"While the report speaks for itself, the inspector general has expressed his hope that it will dispel the criticisms directed at former Solicitor William G. Myers, III," Roy Kime, a spokesman for the inspector general's office, said in a written statement yesterday. "In transmitting the report to the present solicitor and assistant secretary for land and minerals, the inspector general ascribed no fault whatsoever to Mr. Myers. To the contrary, 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."
Myers, now an Idaho-based lawyer whom President Bush has nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, has been a target of the environmental group Community Rights Counsel, which argued this month that the settlement gave Robbins "carte blanche authority to violate federal grazing laws."
Myers has maintained that he was not involved in the settlement discussions and merely told a subordinate lawyer that the subordinate had authority to settle the case.
Robbins and the BLM had been involved in a nine-year dispute over grazing rights violations on federal lands and Robbins's complaints about the way BLM officials were enforcing rangeland management regulations. The BLM voided the settlement in January 2004 based on Robbins's failure to meet the terms of the agreement, and the agency and the rancher are still battling over his land violations.
In a cover memo to the report, Devaney wrote that Comer "failed to act impartially and gave preferential treatment to Mr. Robbins in negotiating and crafting" the settlement agreement. The unnamed staff lawyer bears responsibility, Devaney wrote, because "he capitulated to the pressure and intimidation of Robert Comer" and "passively conceded to the ill-advised will of his superiors."
Meanwhile, 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 inspector general wrote.
Douglas Kendall, executive director of Washington-based Community Rights Counsel -- which has criticized the Robbins agreement -- said the IG report "raises more questions than it answers about how such a blatantly illegal settlement agreement was reached under Myers's watch."
Staff writer Charles Babington contributed to this report.