San Juan hit with $2.6M in attorney fees from Voting Rights Act case

Cutting its losses, the San Juan County Commission has voted 3-0 to pay attorney fees totaling $2.6 million to the Navajo Nation attorneys who represented the tribe in the years-long litigation over violations of the Voting Rights Act, according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune.

The county accepted the offer after a lengthy mediation session that was held in Moab reduced the original fee request of $3.4 million. According to the Tribune, San Juan County will pay lead attorney Steve Boos and others a one-time payment of $1.3 million in January and then $200,000 a year until its paid off in 6.5 years.

The Tribune report said longtime San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams and unnamed county employees played key roles in trimming $800,000 off the fee in the court-ordered mediation.

While Adams, a Republican, has served several terms on the commission, his Democrat colleagues, Chair Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes, Navajos, were elected in November after a federal court determined San Juan County gerrymandered voting districts in a manner that disenfranchised the Navajo, who are a majority populace in the geographically large county.

“This brings a difficult chapter in San Juan County’s history to a close,” the Tribune quoted Maryboy. “It’s time to move forward and stay focused on the business of running this county. My goal now is to have this settlement affect San Juan County’s residents as little as possible as we figure out how to best manage this obligation over the next few years.”

Not everyone is satisfied, apparently. The Tribune quoted State Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, and a former San Juan commissioner, as having previously alleged the case was not about voting rights, but “driven by environmentalists, including proponents of Bears Ears National Monument, who were bent on creating more restrictions on federal lands in San Juan County.”

Lyman and his fellow commissioners in office at the time rejected a number of Navajo Nation offers to settle as one court and then another found San Juan County violated the Voting Rights Act.

Lyman earlier this week in a Facebook post was highly critical of federal Judge Robert Shelby, who originally ruled in favor of the Navajo Nation. According to the Tribune, Lyman wrote the case was “nothing but political backlash by people who hate San Juan County.” He accused Shelby of bias due to his “social ties to an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.”

Lyman added: “He should be impeached yet he is upheld by the very people who took an oath to protect the people from such colluding, conniving, conflicted imposters. We have the justice system we deserve because we allow this type of thing to continue.”