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Opinion by Ken Hamilton

Equal Access to Justice for a Few by: Ken Hamilton 

Many people are aware of the efforts to reform the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) in order to bring more transparency to the process of the federal government paying attorney fees. Based on information researched and brought to light through the Budd-Falen law offices we found out that monies were being awarded without the slightest effort by the government to keep track of who received them and why. Thus, there is a need for some transparency and oversight. We have also seen some of the recipients fight efforts to bring transparency, and why wouldn’t they? After all, this is something that helps offset their cost of suing the federal government.

The other aspect of this that some have wondered about is the sometimes cozy appearance between these groups who sue the federal government and the desire by the government to help pay their way.

Recently, several environmental groups settled with the federal government over their attorney fees for suing the Fish and Wildlife Service on wolf delisting efforts in Montana and Idaho. The settlement agreed to by the federal government will pay the groups $380,000 for their attorney fees. This request for money was filed with the courts in November 2012, and the government didn’t object to this filing.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Wyoming Wolf Coalition through its attorney Harriet Hageman, has asked the federal government for their fees under EAJA. These fees, one-tenth of the environmental claim, have been argued over by the same federal government since April 2011.

Given this interesting development it certainly appears the federal government, through the Justice Department, does not apply justice uniformly. Perhaps the Justice Department is concerned that these multi-million dollar environmental groups should be paid because they have resources far beyond the troublesome rancher, sportsmen, outfitters and local governments, and they could use the money, but those other entities should be denied because they are poor.

Perhaps they feel that almost $400,000 is not a big deal, but $36,000 is a huge deal worthy of Justice Department attorney time to file objections.

Who knows? But one thing is apparent and that is the Equal Access to Justice Act is being applied less than equally by the federal government. It appears that if they agree with you they will send you a check, but if they do not they will send you an attorney’s response denying you your money.

The Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general agriculture organization. The primary goals of the organization are to protect private property rights and help members achieve an equitable return on their investment. Visit wyfb.org.