Law firms pursuing a lawsuit for Utah demanding that the federal government turn over 30 million acres to the state charged $5,500 for travel expenses not allowed by their contracts — such as first class airfare, alcohol and luxury hotels.
However, the Davillier Law Group and Strata also chose not to charge the state for about $5,900 in other allowable travel expenses.
“So we’re actually $400 to the benefit,” said Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, co-chairman of the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands.
He said lawmakers asked the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst to look at travel spending by the law firms working for the state after questions were raised about the by the Campaign for Accountability, a group opposing Utah’s proposed lawsuit.
That office sent a letter Wednesday with the findings.
It found $5,551 in expenses that were not allowed by contract — including $2,441 for a trip to Salt Lake City that included staying at the Grand America Hotel; $2,308 for the difference between first class and coach airfare; $21 for alcohol; $744 for duplicate billing of lodging; and $56 for a hotel room that exceeded the allowable $140 a night.
The review also said, however, that “total combined potential travel charges that the providers did not invoice, but could have under the contracts’ terms, sum to approximately $5,900.”
Stratton told the House Republican Caucus that Utah has spent about $950,000 so far preparing for the potential lawsuit out of the $6.5 million appropriated to date toward that effort.
Stratton said initial “worst case” predictions that the lawsuit could cost $14 million were likely far too high, and predicted that it will cost “far less.”
He said law firms have spent “less than half” what was expected to this point of preparation.
“We’re pleased with the outcome,” Stratton said. “The analysis [on proceeding with the lawsuit] is constitutionally anchored in very, very important principles related to state sovereignty and equal footing, and we are on very solid and firm ground.”
However, Democrats and other critics have said pursuing the lawsuit is likely a waste of millions of dollars, and has little chance of success based on past court rulings.