SHERIDAN — For agriculturalists, local, state and national litigation impacts day-to-day operations. Attorney General Peter Michael briefly discussed two cases directly involving landowners at the 99th annual meeting of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation: State of Wyoming v. Clayvin Herrera and MT v. WY regarding water rights on the Tongue River Reservoir.
Michael emphasized the benefit Wyoming enjoys by not electing but appointing its attorney general and the importance of paying heed to ongoing or decided cases for future statewide policies.
“I think there’s a real positive to not having the attorney general trying to be super populous with a large number of voters, but really look at the long-term interest of the state,” Michael said.
Instead of having his eyes glued to a screen anxiously anticipating voter results last Tuesday night, Michael had his eyes glued to a case brief for the Herrera case.
“I mention attorneys general from other states spend a lot of time running for office,” Michael said. “What do you do when you don’t have to run for office? You do legal work, you be a lawyer, and that’s what I’ve done as attorney general.”
Michael explained the case is of interest to the northeast part of the state. Four Crow Tribe members came into Wyoming out of season and shot four elk without a license. The men are now whittled down to one — Clayvin Herrera — and his counsel claims that the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie allows them to do that. The other three men closed their cases in past years.
“That’s a big case. It’s in the United States Supreme Court,” Michael said. “The court accepted (it) despite our arguments back in February that the case shouldn’t be accepted.”
Michael said while he reviewed the 55-page brief and completed edits upon edits before its upcoming due date, other attorneys general were looking at the returns and thanking their constituents.
The respondent’s brief is due Nov. 13 and the petitioner’s reply to the brief is due Dec. 13. This allows the U.S. Supreme Court to hold the oral argument during the January 2019 sitting, where the case will be finalized for the Bighorn National Forest in the nation’s highest court. The case started in Sheridan County Circuit Court, then moved to 4th Judicial District Court, Wyoming Supreme Court and is now ready for the U.S. Supreme Court hearing.
Michael also discussed the importance and the “win” for Wyoming in the Montana v. Wyoming case, where 13 claims of water misuse downsized to two, and Wyoming ended with minimal costs compared to Montana’s exceedingly high attorney fees.
The case began in 2004 and 2006, when Montana sent letters to Wyoming declaring misuse of water. Wyoming lost the case, but Michael said they really won in comparison financially. Montana hired private attorneys out of New Mexico to handle the case, spending around $6 million to Wyoming’s salaried employee — Michael. The legal team spent around $1 million for expert witnesses and case prep, and paid Montana $30,000 for the settlement. As a result of Michael’s long nights spent, salaried, on the case, he said water issues have nearly ceased and management of the Tongue River and Tongue River Reservoir improved greatly.
Michael said the benefit of him being a salaried attorney for cases like the two aforementioned goes to the taxpayers not needing to foot a $6 million bill to hire out-of-state lawyers on big cases like MT v. WY.
Large cases remaining in-house also entice future attorneys general to remain in the position, Michael said.
The way Wyoming chooses to appoint rather than elect an attorney general brings, in Michael’s opinion, less payout for taxpayers, more congruence among the state’s government entities and steady handling of cases that matter to agriculturalists throughout the state.