WASHINGTON, DC–Interior Solicitor William G. Myers III repeatedly met with former clients in violation of an ethics agreement, according to a complaint filed today with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) by Friends of the Earth and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). On May 15, 2003, President Bush nominated Myers to serve on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Prior to his appointment as the Department of the Interior’s top lawyer, Myers was the executive director of Public Lands Council and represented the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the American Sheep Industry Association and the American Farm Bureau. Since all of these groups deal extensively with the Department of the Interior, Myers executed a recusal agreement effective July 2001 barring him from participating in any matters involving his former clients or former employer for one year. The purpose of a recusal agreement is to prevent any actual or appearance of a conflict of interest in the exercise of the public official’s duties.
The Office of the Solicitor, which Myers heads, plays a key role in determining how federal rangeland restrictions affecting his former clients will be interpreted or enforced. According to appointment calendars obtained by Friends of the Earth, Myers met several times during the recusal period with a number of former clients in the grazing industry and with representatives of his former law firm. “Apparently recusal agreements don’t mean very much at the Department of the Interior,” said Kristen Sykes, who oversees the Interior Department for Friends of the Earth. “Myers is one of a string of political appointees at the Interior Department who seem to put the financial well-being of their former clients above the protection of our public lands.”
The complaint has been filed with OGE, which will determine whether Myers violated his recusal agreement and report to the Secretary of Interior. If OGE finds a breach, Interior Secretary Norton will determine the punishment for her top lawyer, with sanctions ranging from a warning to dismissal.
“With Mr. Myers running the Solicitor’s Office, not only is the fox guarding the henhouse, the fox is also in charge of counting the eggs,” stated PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer who prepared the complaint. “Federal range managers are reporting to PEER repeated instances when the Office of the Solicitor under Myers is preventing them from enforcing range conservation protections.”
Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, the second highest-ranking official in the agency, is also facing similar charges of meeting with his former lobbying clients in the energy industry.