Judge dismisses SUWA’s Open Meeting lawsuit
A district judge has ruled that meetings between San Juan County Commissioners and federal officials are not a violation of Open Meeting law.
The April 3 ruling dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). The lawsuit argued that it violated state law when Commissioners met officials in Washington, DC, including Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and members of the Utah Congressional delegation.
When Seventh District Judge Lyle R Anderson dismissed the lawsuit, he suggested that it may have been filed “for the improper purpose of intimidating the [Commission] and other similarly situated officials.”
Attorneys for SUWA must now submit a Memorandum to explain why they believe they did not violate state law by filing this suit.
Judge Anderson said the Commissioners do not have advisory status when they meet with federal officials. He added, “The County Commission was advocating on behalf of the County or its citizens when meeting with members of Congress or Interior officials.
“Anyone can advocate. Anyone can lobby. That one can do so does not mean one has either jurisdiction or advisory status. The Utah Open Meetings Act was clearly not designed to reach so far.”
County officials are pleased with the ruling.
Commission Chair Bruce Adams said, “SUWA has abused their platform and donors for too long. They have made money on the backs of the taxpayers by filing frivolous lawsuits and exploiting the Equal Access to Justice Act.
“We could not be more pleased that Judge Anderson has seen through the lies of this organization. It is our hope that this will be the first step in a movement to unmask SUWA and the manipulative way they do business.”
The legal defense was handled “in-house” by San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws, with no additional costs of outside counsel.
San Juan County has paid nearly $2 million in legal fees to outside council in the past two years. The county may be forced to pay more than $3 million in additional legal fees as a result of voting rights lawsuits filed by the Navajo Nation.