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A Utah County Paid High Fees For Legal Work On Canyon Lawsuit

A Utah county paid high fees to an out-of-state law firm to sue the federal government in a case involving a canyon right of way, a report said.

JW Howard Attorneys billed San Juan County more than $360,000 from 2016 to 2018 to sue the federal government.

Officials were attempting to prove the county had title to a right of way extending about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) through Recapture Canyon near Blanding.

Records show taxpayers paid for some of the firm's San Diego-based attorneys to travel using first-class airline tickets and conduct work at a rate of $500 per hour.

Records indicate payments continued after a May 2018 consolidation with a similar case brought by the Utah attorney general's office and funded by the state. The case is not expected to be heard in court for years, officials said.

Utah sued in 2012 on behalf of San Juan County for rights of way to more than 4,200 miles (6,759 kilometers) of what it said were historic roads, including long-abandoned routes through national parks, monuments and wilderness study areas.

Counties and the state can claim rights of way for roads on federal land that were open to the public and used continuously for 10 years before the state statue was repealed in 1976.

"Howard was worth every dime," said Republican state Rep. Phil Lyman, who signed the contract with lead lawyer John Howard in January 2017 when Lyman was the San Juan County Commission chairman.

"Every invoice your head spins at the hourly rates, but that's what they charge," Lyman said. "There was no deception in it."

Howard declined to comment.